Newbery Project #18: 1996’s The Midwife’s Apprentice

midwifesAANNNDD we’re back in the Middle Ages. Our heads bobbed above the historical fiction sea for a couple books, only to be plunged back into the depths of the 13th century. (Don’t worry, we come up again on the next book.)

The Midwife’s Apprentice is a creatively-titled book about a midwife’s apprentice. In the grand tradition of books that take place in the middle ages, the character starts the book without a name. (See also: Crispin: The Cross of Lead) In the other grand tradition of books about the middle ages reminding us how ridiculously filthy the middle ages were, the main character begins the book in a pile of dung. She is found by a midwife, who agrees to let her not live in a pile of dung anymore in exchange for her help around the house and with general midwifery. The midwife is not very nice. (As far as I can tell, no one in the Middle Ages was very nice. Probably because they were all so filthy and poor all the time. You try being nice when you’re covered in poop and haven’t eaten a decent meal in ever.) Our intrepid main character (who eventually takes the name Alyce) learns a bunch ventures out on her own.

This is a short and simple book. There really isn’t much to criticize. It’s well-written and mildly historically interesting and the main character is well-developed. I liked reading about the midwifery procedures of the time because they were a mixture of useful and totally crazy-pants (as was pretty much everything we did to our bodies before modern medicine was developed). I was glad Alyce learned to stand up for herself because boy was she hard to handle when she was a sniveling, dung-covered thing called Brat. Overall, though, this book didn’t quite do it for me. It was just there. There’s nothing wrong with it, exactly. But we have established that I am not really the audience for these Middle Ages books. NOT MY BAG.

Would kids like it? I honestly have no idea. It’s a book about MIDWIFERY. But, this being in the NOT MY BAG category, I’m maybe not the best judge of what some random kid who is into the middle ages and midwifery would like. But look at that cover. I have a very hard time picturing the kid who picks up that book and thinks “This! This is what I want to read next!”

Are there funny bits? At this point I’d give my pinky toe for a good, funny book about the Middle Ages.

Do I understand why it won? I do not see how this book is better than one of the runner-ups, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963. But I do know the Newbery loves them some historical fiction with a beaten-down main character. (Although, isn’t that also Watsons?)


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