The Midwife's Apprentice

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The Midwife's Apprentice
The Midwifes Apprentice.jpg
Author Karen Cushman
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's Historical Fiction
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date
March 1991
Media type Print (Hardback and Paperback)
Pages 122 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-613-00185-0
OCLC 173089913
LC Class PZ7.C962 Mi 1995

The Midwife's Apprentice is a children's novel by Karen Cushman. It tells of how a homeless girl becomes a midwife's apprentice—and establishes a name and a place in the world, and learns to hope and overcome failure. This novel won the John Newbery Medal in 1996.


A girl known as Brat attempts to nestle in a warm dung heap on a cold night. She wakes up to the taunts of village boys, and a women who is neither young or old asks her if she's alive. Seeing that Brat is willing to work in exchange for food, Jane takes her on as her apprentice, and renames her "Beetle" but does not voluntarily teach Beetle about midwifery for fear of competition. Beetle finds a cat by the fence post, and takes him on as a pet. The villagers, unable to take their anger out on the greedy midwife, instead take their anger out on Beetle and the cat. One day, the villager boys put the cat and an eel in a sack and tossed the sack into the pond, betting to see who would come off better. Beetle, watching in horror, rescues her near-dead cat and nurses the cat back to health. She dubs the cat "Purr" and it becomes her friend, listening to her problems and rubbing his head against her in sympathy. Beetle begins to spy on Jane during the delivery process, learning a lot of the process herself.


Jane receives enormous amounts of bread over the weeks, and begins to go out to do chores without the necessary materials. Beetle, suspicious, tails Jane and finds her making out with the baker, who then hands her a gift of bread, wife and children not noticing. Beetle, in shock, falls out of the tree and Jane captures her, but lets her go after beetle says she won't "snitch". Afterwards, she saves one of the bullies, Will, from drowning. They become friends afterwards and Beetle helps him deliver his cow's twin babies. One day, Beetle decides to exact revenge on every villager who had wronged her by making their sins publicized. The punishment for sinning was too harsh, so she decides to make devil footprints leading to the scene of the sin, so the villagers will lessen the punishment because "who could resist the devil himself?". She makes footprints leading to the bullies sleeping on the job, footprints leading to a mean girl's house, Grommet, where she is caught with sleeping with a boy from the manor, and footprints to the baker, where he waits to kiss Jane. All but the baker is punished, the baker being confronted by his angry wife. The only villager she couldn't exact revenge was the greedy Jane, who was delivering a child in the Manor.

Jane breaks her foot and sends Beetle to go to the fair to pick up some materials. A generous merchant compliments on Beetle's looks, and gifts her with a comb. At the fair, a man mistakes Beetle for a girl named "Alyce", and also mistakes her for her to be able to read. Happy for this, she renames herself "Alyce". She befriends a little boy who is homeless, as she once was, and finds him a name, Edward, a job and a home at the hall of a rich man. Jane goes to a woman in labor, and if she attends her, she will be awarded with a chicken. She is caring for the woman in labor with the help of Alyce when word comes that the Lady of the Manor is also in labor. Jane abandons the new mother to Alyce's care to attend the richer woman. Alyce successfully delivers the baby, and the grateful parents pay her instead of Jane, which angers the midwife. The new mother names the child "Alyce Little". Shortly after this, a woman's son comes to Alyce asking her specifically to deliver her baby, not Jane. This is a much more difficult birth, and she fails. Jane sweeps in and presides over the birth, and Alyce flees, not wanting to endure the shame. She goes with the cat and finds an inn, that has not specific name. Soon after, she finds good work and the owner and his wife become fond of Alyce. A man who is staying for the winter, a scholar from Oxford, becomes fond of Purr and teaches Alyce science and how to read. Alyce goes to the village to check on Edward, and finds that he doesn't truly do work. She encourages him to work properly and stop playing around, and returns to the inn. When a noble woman with a "stomach worm" and her husband arrive at the inn, Alyce realizes that the woman is actually in labor and successfully delivers her child. This event boosts her confidence in her skills as a midwife, encouraging her to return to the village to once again become Jane's apprentice.


Preceded by
Walk Two Moons
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
The View from Saturday