The Midwife’s Apprentice
by Karen Cushman, published 1995
“..Alyce shifted the pack on her shoulders, and with her head back and bare feet solid on the ground, she headed back to the mid-wife’s cottage and never noticed when it grew cool and dark, for the heat and light within her.”
This children’s book came highly recommended to me by a fellow teacher, and after reading it, I can see why. It is a wonderful book to use as class reading for bringing history, especially women’s history, alive. Set in fourteenth century medieval England, the story of an impoverished orphan and her role in the society of the day is compelling. Even more compelling is the character that Cushman presents, as we watch the young girl summon up her courage and grow in self-esteem, until a very compelling and unexpected ending.
It’s not clear to me that children would pick this up on their own, but if you have a young girl who particularly likes historical fiction, then this makes a great children’s book to read. It is not often we find an accurate portrayal of traditional feminine roles in history, which makes this book even more valuable. There is nothing sugar-coated about this book, either. It tells it as it was, which was not always very pleasant!
As for age, this book feels most appropriate for the older girls, at least 12 years old. Because it deals with childbirth, and does it very vividly, one will want to be sure the girls are ready for a look at the subject. I would not offer it to younger children who will lack the ability to take in the context. Normally I don’t review teen books, but after reading this, it is possible this belongs in the teen category.
Cushman was awarded a Newbery prize for this children’s book, and she has written several others, also historical fiction. So if you find your students or children enjoy this, look for her other books as well.