HMH Books for Young Readers, 2012. 978-0547722177
Winner of the 1996 John Newbery Medal
Synopsis: The girl known only as Brat has no family, no home, and no future until she meets Jane the Midwife and becomes her apprentice. As she helps the sharp-tempered Jane deliver babies, Brat–who renames herself Alyce–gains knowledge, confidence, and the courage to want something from life: “A full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world.” Medieval village life makes a lively backdrop for the funny, poignant story of how Alyce gets what she wants. – from Amazon.com
Why I picked it up: Well, I actually started reading this years ago when I was in grade school and never finished it, so I thought I owed it to the book to go back and finish it.
Why I finished it: This book is a charming portrait of life in the Middle Ages and about one of the most important professions of the time, midwifery. And even if you don’t get more of an appreciation for the Middle Ages out of this book, you will certainly be able to appreciate that we have it so much easier in modern times. Brat/Alyce is a highly amusing heroine with no real people skills and a strong determination to be more than her station dictates. There’s a rather humorous scene at the beginning of the book where Brat/Alyce is attempting to revive a cat and because she does not know any words of comfort, she swears at it; it was a scene often recited among my friends even after we finished the book. Brat/Alyce isn’t encouraged, isn’t particularly loved, and doesn’t have a particularly discernible skill set before she meets Jane the Midwife, but it is under Jane’s tutorage and because of Jane’s willingness to take her in that shapes Brat/Alyce into a girl with a sense of self and a sense of purpose. Smart and funny with a dash of educational material, Cushman’s novel about an orphan searching for a place in the world encourages the reader to keep fighting for what they believe in and to never give up no matter what life throws in their way.
Other related materials: Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman; Matilda Bone by Karen Cushman; Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman; Good Masters! Sweet Ladies: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz; The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman; The Horrible, Miserable Middle Ages: The Disgusting Details About Life During Medieval Times by Kathy Allen; Outrageous Women of the Middle Ages by Vicki Leòn; The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli; The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood; Midnight Magic by Avi; Murder at Midnight by Avi