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Home > Reading Comprehension > book reviews > Midwife's Apprentice

Book Review:e Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman

Title, Author & Publisher: The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman (HarperCollins, 1995).

Length: 117 pages - no illustrations, but fairly large margins.

Print size: Usual "children's literature" size.

Other readability issues: The story takes place in a medieval village and is the story of a lower-class girl who is an 'apprentice' to a midwife. Picture or video examples of this era would help a student visualize the setting. The opening scene involves sleeping in a haystack filled with dung, because it provides heat. Like Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, this is an ideal book for learning about 'character' and 'settings,' or for "comparing and contrasting" both the 'concrete' aspects of life -- food and heat and shelter -- and the cultural aspects, such as how children are treated and what bullies are like and whether life is "fair and sweet."

The plot is linear and while the setting is in a very different time, the story is fairly easy to follow. Students who rely on a lot of action may be disappointed; on the other hand, the novel and sometimes 'gross' aspects of living in the Middle Ages will have some appeal to the middle school mentality.

There are places where students may need to be helped with inferences.In one chapter, we read about the Devil apearing in the village and exposing several sinners, who's punishment is lessened from the usual medieval barbarity because of the Devil's obvious influence, and at the end of the chapter we read about our character's role. Some students who might have missed making the connection will be helped just by asking "what the wood carvings were."

The conflict can be explored abstractly or concretely -- survival itself is a conflict, as well as learning that it's better to keep trying and learn from failure than to try to run away from it, and learning about the "sometimes mighty distance between what one imagines and what is."

Summary: A girl with no home, no parents, and no name except "Brat" is found in a dung heap by the village midwife. She goes through several names and choices as she tries to find her place in the world.

Typical words: Typical multisyllable/irregular words - you may want to see how many of these words your students can identify before expecting them to read independently. The unfamiliar setting may make accurate readng more challenging.


























Other comments:

  • An excellent 'supplemental' book to learning about the Middle Ages.

  • This book could be used as an easily-read vehicle for discussions of the role of science and superstition in society, comparing different governments and class systems, roles of women through history, self-determination under circumstances over which a person has little control, and a host of other complex, abstract issues.


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