Thursday, July 1, 2010
2×40: The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
About the book:
First published in 1995 by Houghton Mifflin, The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman received the Newbery Medal for 1996. It is noted as one of the important books in children’s literature today.
This is Ms. Cushman’s second novel. The first one, Catherine, Called Birdy, published in 1995 and named a Newbery Honor Book that year.
Ms. Cushman relates that it was while she was writing her first book that she came up with the idea for The Midwife's Apprentice . She first came up with the title, which she liked a lot, and kept with her until she saw “the image of a homeless girl sleeping on a dung heap, longing for a name, a full belly and a place in the world.” That was when the rest of the story unfolded before her.
This is story of young girl without a home, food, or family; nothing. Not even a name. Set in the middle ages, Brat, as she is called, ever since she can remember, is found by a midwife and brought into her home to work in exchange for food and a place to sleep. She becomes the midwife’s apprentice and finally finds a place in this world.
“When animal droppings and garbage and spoiled straw are piled up in a great heap, the rotting and moiling give forth heat.”
About the Author:
Karen Cushman was born in Chicago, IL and grew up in Southern California. She has enjoyed reading and writing from a very young age. She received an M. A. in human behavior from Stanford University. She received her second one, also from Stanford, in museum studies.
While she went to college, she stopped writing. In fact, did not write again for a while; quite a while, to be exact. She did however share her joy of reading with her daughter, and found the appeal in young adult literature. She relates in a speech that, “Children’s literature is very important to me. That’s what I’ve been writing since I was five, with a short break of forty or so years in the middle.”
After publishing The Midwife's Apprentice , she decided to leave the academe and concentrate on writing full-time. She has since written five more young adult novels, all with young, strong, female lead characters, namely Catherine, Called Birdy (rpkg) (Trophy Newbery), The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, Matilda Bone, Rodzina, The Loud Silence of Francine Green, and Alchemy and Meggy Swann.
Ms. Cushman now lives on Vashon Island, west of Seattle, WA with her husband, Philip.
My Initial Thoughts:
I started reading the book a few hours ago and had to stop myself so I could do my research on the author and prepare this post. It was a treat for me to find that how Ms. Cushman came about the story in the first place, is exactly how she starts the book.
Just a few pages in (about eleven, actually) and I am already seeing vivid pictures of where the story is set. I could smell the stench of the dung heap that we find our lead character, now still called Brat, sleeping on. I could feel the despair she feels at having no food, no home and no name.
The fact that Ms. Cushman stopped writing for so long, before she became a published author, is inspiring to me. Sometime before going to college, I too stopped writing. Like Ms. Cushman, I felt that it was too great a risk for me to find out that I wasn’t any good. So I stopped, and never told any one about it; not even my family. I did not think I would have the inclination to ever write again. It took me over twenty years to come back to fiction writing. I would like to think that maybe there is still hope for me.
This early on, I can already tell that I will enjoy this particular part of my 40 x 40 journey. I can’t wait to see where she takes me.
Karen Cushman Author Page on Amazon
Karen Cushman Papers. Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. http://www.arnenixoncenter.org/finding_aids/anc0006.htm" July 1, 2010.