I feel like this week has left me burnt out in most aspects of life. I’m tired of homeschooling. I’m in a bit of a reading slump this week. Plus, I’m in the third trimester of pregnancy so I am just starting to feel really tired all the time. I am sad to see the end of my second trimester energy go. But hurrah for the end of pregnancy! I have been on a roll with reviews in April but this week saw a bit of a drop off until now.
Today I am here with a review of The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman. This book won the 1996 Newbery Medal and I read it as part of my Newbery Challenge.
- This is a small book that is a quick read and surprised me with the depth and intensity of the themes explored and the interesting historical details.
According to Goodreads, “The girl known only as Brat has no family, no home, and no future until she meets Jane the Midwife and becomes her apprentice. As she helps the sharp-tempered Jane deliver babies, Brat–who renames herself Alyce–gains knowledge, confidence, and the courage to want something from life: “A full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world.” Medieval village life makes a lively backdrop for the funny, poignant story of how Alyce gets what she wants.”
Alyce/Beetle/Brat was an intriguing protagonist. I felt really sad for her at first as she’s obviously had a hard life and not a lot of kindness shown her. I appreciated her mothering nature with Purr the cat and little Edward. I thought she learned a lot despite her tough background. Her decision to just give up and run away was a bit abrupt and awkward. Also her relationship with Jane the midwife was a bit stark. I was surprised someone so mean and unkind can be such a good midwife (Jane). In general, I had a hard time really connecting with Alyce but I wanted to know more about her.
It was interesting to learn more about midwifery in the Middle Ages and to see what people believed about giving birth and the women who would help them. This whole story hit very close to home for me. As I go through pregnancy, I was really surprised to learn the historical details about pregnancy and birth during this time period. The way witchcraft, superstitions and something like medicine all blended was interesting. From the songs they sang to the herbs they used to the things they had women eat, drink and do. It was interesting to learn about. And sometimes it was a bit funny like when Jane would call to the unborn child to “come forth to the light of Christ!” If only that would motivate children to come faster! Despite the interesting historical details, I’m glad that I’m not a medieval woman about to give birth!
For me, the whole story was a bit rushed and lacked development when I wanted to hear more. While I appreciate that the story is told from a child’s perspective, I thought it could have been longer. With a longer story, we could have more time to develop characters, give them more background stories, and flesh out some underdeveloped scenes (like more details about Alyce learning to read, developing relationships with villagers, Jane’s back story). Also, the end when the woman is in labor and no one knew that until they’re at the inn is a bit ridiculous for me. How do you not know you’re in labor? Haha. But I see the importance of that moment and that scene for Alyce’s development.
Some intriguing themes about believing in yourself and working hard for your goals and not giving up but also some details I wouldn’t want my young kids to read about. Some of those intense moments include the struggles of childbirth (young readers would be surprised by those details unless they’ve talked about childbirth with their parents previously), violence against children (I really didn’t like how Jane treated Alyce), and sad backgrounds (where did Alyce or Edward come from? It’s never explained). I think the main takeaway is that many young readers probably need to be prepared for this one or at least parents/teachers must be prepared for some tough and deep questions afterwards.
This wasn’t my favorite Newbery and I don’t think I will read it again. But I appreciate what the author is tackling and trying to share.
What is your favorite novel set in the Middle Ages?
Which Newbery should I read next?
I read this Newbery Medal winner as a part of my Newbery Challenge.
I plan to read all 100 Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2022, the year the 100th winner is announced.