Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Midwife's Apprentice

Karen Cushman 1995

This short chapter book manages to capture the feel and times of a medieval girl.  An orphan named "Beetle" apprentices herself to the village midwife and manages to find her way in the dirty, smelly, hard world of the Middle Ages.  She is teased mercilessly but she's got pluck and compassion.  She even saves one of her tormentors, Will, from drowning.

You didn't run with the others," he said. "That were brave, Beetle."
"Naw, I be not brave," she said. "I near pissed myself. I did it for else you'd have drowned and gone to Hell, a drunken loudmouth bully like you, and I would have helped send you there and I could not have that, now, could I?"

She gives herself a name, Alyce, and starts to find some self-worth.

For long minutes she held the comb, looked at it this way and that, smelled the fragrant wood, and admired the sleeping cat.  Then with a great sigh she put it down and turned to bargain with the merchant for the flasks.  Although, or perhaps because, she was new at the bargaining game, Beetle handled it with such charming solemnity that the merchant took a fancy to the skinny young thing and, with a broad wink, threw the comb with the cat into the pack with the flasks.  "Comb those long curls till they shine, girl, and sure you'll have a lover before nightfall."  Another wink and the merchant turned to his next customer.

The comb was hers.  Beetle stood breathless for fear someone would snatch it back.  Never had she owned anything except for her raggedy clothes and occasional turnips, and now the comb with the cat was hers.  The wink and the comment about her curls, though Beetle didn't know it, were also gifts from the generous merchant, and they nestled into Beetle's heart and stayed there.

Along with the story of Beetle is a picture of life during the Middle Ages, the way people lived and spoke and the various superstitions and methods of childbirth.  I think it's a pretty successful historical fiction for young adults.

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