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
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.

Mary Beth Dunhouse, chair of the Newbery Award Selection Committee, wrote of the book, "The reader is drawn in from the first sentence when the author speaks of a 'rotting and moiling heap. 'And this is when the reader meets the central character, Brat--'unwashed, unnourished, unloved, and unlovely... who dreamed of nothing, for she hoped of nothing and expected nothing.' This homeless waif becomes the midwife's apprentice--a person with a name and a place in the world. Medieval England is well-evoked, and readers will find this world so compelling that they will keep turning pages to see what happens next."[1]

In an interview in Scholastic Magazine, Ms. Cushman says, "The book took about 9 months to write, the same length of time it takes to make a child. Interesting, huh? I had done a lot of research on the Middle Ages for Catherine, Called Birdy, so I knew a lot about the time and place. The research I did was for specific about childbirth, herbs, and healing." [2]


In medieval England, a homeless orphan girl who has no name, and can recall being named Brat, attempts to nestle in a warm dung heap on a cold night. She wakes up to the taunts of village boys, and Jane Sharp" asks her if she's alive. Jane takes her on as her apprentice, renames her "Beetle," but does not teach Beetle about midwifery for fear of competition. Jane is greedy and cruel, but she has a monopoly on her services, and the villagers, unable to take their anger out on the midwife, take it out on Beetle.

Alyce is friends with a little homeless orphan boy, whom she names him Edward, after the King, and tells him to go to the manor to get food and a job.

Jane helps a woman in labor with the help of Alyce and word arrives the Lady of the Manor is in labor. Jane abandons the new mother to Alyce's care to the Lady. Alyce is kind to the woman and successfully delivers the baby, and the grateful parents pay her and name the child "Alyce Little."

A woman's son comes to Alyce asking her to deliver her baby. This is a more difficult birth, Alyce fails and is overwhelmed by her inability to help. Jane sweeps in and presides over the birth, and Alyce flees, not wanting to endure the shame. She leaves the town with her cat.

In another town, she comes to an inn where the owner gives Alyce work in exchange for food. and becomes fond of Alyce. A scholar from Oxford, staying for the winter, teaches Alyce how to read.

Alyce misses Edward and wants to find out how he is faring. She returns to the village to check on him, and finds that he has been supported without working. Their reunion is like that of a brother and sister. Alyce tells him to work properly and she returns to the inn.

All she wants is to be a midwife, so she returns to the village with a new sense of self purpose and asks to be the midwife’s apprentice again.


  1. ^ "1996 Newbery Medal and Honor Books". Scholastic Magazine. 1996. Retrieved June 14, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Interview with Karen Cushman". American Library Association. 2014. Retrieved June 14, 2015. 

External links[edit]

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