Hello, gentle readers,
I originally wrote this post as a part of my 2015 “Summer Slide” series. The summer slide is the two+ months of academic knowledge lost by school age children during summer vacation. [source] The greatest losses are in the area of mathematical computation among all students and in math and reading among children living in low-income households. [source]
Having worked all of my career in schools where the students come from low socio-economic homes, the summer slide was huge. Not only did my student do little reading, writing or math over the summer, but they also spoke very little English. So when they returned to school in August, it was like starting all over again from square one or, at the very least, square two.
I am sharing Newbery Medal winner The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman again today because it is just that good. This title is used with the middle school aged children in the Gifted and Talented Program in El Paso. And it received much critical acclaim in the mid 1990’s.
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
ALA Notable Book for Children
Booklist Editors’ Choice
Horn Book Fanfare Selection
School Library Journal, Best Books of the Year
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Hungry Mind Review Book of Distinction
Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts
Not Just For Children Anymore! Selection (CBC)
Parenting Magazine Reading Magic Awards
Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Readers Choice Award Short List
Parents’ Choice Gold Award
American Bookseller “Pick of the Lists”
New York Public Library, 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
ABC Children’s Booksellers Choice Award
NYPL Books for the Teen Age List
The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman was one of the first children’s chapter books/novels I read when I became an elementary school librarian. It received the American Library Association’s Newbery Award in 1996. And has been a book whose story has stayed with me for these twenty years since I first read it. I became reacquainted with The Midwife’s Apprentice during one of my high school librarian substitute assignments. Seeing it on the shelves of El Paso High library and now at Jefferson High has brought a smile to my face. Like old home week!
The main character is a little girl with no name other than Brat as she is called by those in the medieval English village where she lives without a family or home to call her own. Despite those short comings, Brat is a survivor. As a matter of her survival, she becomes linked up with Jane the village midwife, as a kind of helper. Through this opportunity, Brat begins to discover her own self-worth, her own abilities.
Alyce is nicknamed Beetle by the midwife because the girl sleeps beside a pile of dung like the insect. As Brat or Beetle begins to come into her own, she assumes the name Alyce. She becomes Jane’s unofficial apprentice and learns through her apprenticeship, that even she possesses valuable, marketable skills. But the jealous Jane doesn’t relish how quickly and how adeptly Alyce picks up the tricks of her trade. Alyce has become a threat to Jane’s livelihood and position in the community.
As the story progresses, Alyce transitions from a little street urchin into a plucky young woman who fashions a home, family and position for herself. But not without incident; a problematic delivery that Alyce attempts alone when Jane is on call elsewhere, threatens everything the young girl has worked hard to achieve. Rather than face the villagers’ judgement and certain ridicule, she runs away to another nearby town. It is there that she learns to read and write and dare create, for herself, the kind of life she had only dreamed of having.
Because of the descriptions of childbirth, a narrowly averted rape of Brat by some of the village boys, and the suggestion of an affair between the midwife and the town’s very married baker, The Midwife’s Apprentice is appropriate for older elementary or middle school readers in the 10 – 12 year age range, grades 5 – 7. The book is a slim 144 pages making it manageable for reluctant high school readers as well. The book is written on a sixth grade reading level. You can listen to a brief podcast excerpt from the book here.
And use the discussion guide available below.
There is also a range of study tools including discussion questions, a vocabulary list and even a Midwife’s Apprentice Jeopardy game available for the book here. The book can be purchased here through Amazon.com. Or check it out at your neighborhood public library.
I remember using a kind of story mapping software with my students that helped them organize and summarize their thoughts on stories we read together. In searching for information to share with you, I found this great character web, available here, for Alyce. And then stumbled upon interactive Story Mapping activities on ReadWriteThink. Might be something you can use with your readers.
When I originally shared The Midwife’s Apprentice, Karen Cushman was kind enough to accept my invitation to read and comment on my review. I was tickled, not long afterward, to receive a copy of her newest book Grayling’s Song in the mail, which I have just begun reading. Her book, Catherine called Birdie, Newbery Honor book is another of my all-time favs. Meet Karen Cushman on her webpage, here.
Please come back tomorrow when I share another book for the girls in your world.
Hugs and kisses,