The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman
Reading Level: 6 Read Aloud Level: 6
Topic(s): growing up, life in the past
TeacherView by Katy Smith
Grades taught: K-5
Pratt Elementary School
Montgomery, West Virginia USA
Unloved, unwanted, starving and homeless, Brat slept in the dung heap,
facing the taunts and torments of the village boys and townspeople. When
she became an apprentice for the midwife, she discovered that her life
still had not changed very much. The midwife, mean-spirited and miserly,
wanted someone who was not too smart, did exactly what she was told, and
ate very little. Gradually some people were kind to her, and she became
Alyce. Realizing that she probably knew as much as the midwife, Alyce
tried to help a neighbor during her labor. However, she failed and was
ashamed, so she ran away from the town. After working in an inn, she
began to see the goodness and beauty that was within herself and returns
to become the midwife's apprentice.
Pre-/Post- Reading Activity:
Have each group make a web of what they know
about the Middle Ages. Then make a class web using their lists. No group
can contribute what has already been given. Save all lists until the end
the of the unit. At that time the students can use a different color
pen or pencil to add what they have learned about the Middle Ages.
Discussion/Higher Level Reasoning Activities:
(The following activities
could be done by the teacher or he/she could team with the guidance
Alyce, aka Brat, suffered abuse and neglect throughout her short life.
- Discuss how Alyce was treated by the village boys, Jane the
midwife, and others from the town. Try to resolve this.
- Discuss how Alyce felt about herself as a person. When did she start changing and
feeling differently about her worth? Include the fact that she ran away
after she was unable to help a friend.
- Although Alyce had been
mistreated by the villagers, she too was mean-spirited at times. Why?
Incidents include how she tricked the villagers into believing that the
devil was working among them.
- How should an individual deal with a
bully? (Create a list of names and tactics that a bully might use, then
decide how to solve the problem.)
- Although Alyce was often tormented
and teased, she tried to be kind. Why do you think she might do this?
Give examples from the story that illustrate your thoughts.
Any of these activities could be used as a QuickWrite activity or a
journal activity. The teacher could then decide how to use the writings.
Finding Your Way
Plants and Medicine
- As you read the story, draw a map of the village. Include the river and the woods, the abbey and gardens, the jail, the stables, the blacksmith, the mill, and locations of the homes of the midwife, baker, miller, the lord, and other people from the story. Show the path that Alyce followed when she left the village.
- Include a legend and a compass rose. In addition, you might want to
include which way to York and London.
- You can draw the map on large sections of brown paper, such as paper bags
from a grocery. A group of students can then work on sections which can be
made into a large class map.
- Or, give each student their own sheets of drawing paper. The students will
then draw their maps. To make it appear old, have them paint it lightly
with a solution of weakened tea or instant coffee. (If the solution is too
dark, they will not be able to read their map. You can rinse off some
of the residue.)
Medieval Names and Careers
- First, through your reading, make a list of the plants that were used
for medicines and for what ailments. Then extend this list by adding
other plants, especially those found locally, and describe their uses in
medicine. (Caution students about using these remedies. No medicine
should be used without a doctor's recommendation.)
- Have a pharmacist
visit your class (or visit the pharmacy) to discuss the use of herbal
medicines. He or she can add to the list that you have started.
- Look at the over-the-counter herbal remedies available. For example, ginseng is used to improve memory. Have the students to compile a list of the plant and its use.
- Generate a vocabulary list of medieval terms and categorize the ones
that deal with an occupation. From your reading, discuss what each person
did as a job. Does his name reflect his occupation? Many of them did.
Explain that many of our surnames come from an occupation that one of our
ancestors had. Also, explain that at times "son" was added because a
person was the "son of" someone in a certain occupation. (Example:
"Smithson" meant he was the son of the local blacksmith.)
- Now, look at that list and decide if the job is one that we still use today. Has the name of the job changed? Are any of the occupations the same? Have more than one type of name currently? (ex: priest could be priest, minister, pastor, preacher, rabbi, etc.) Have the duties of the job changed over the last 700 years?
- Graph the different names in your class (grade or
school) that is also the name of an occupation or trade.
- Write an acrostic poem using their own name or something from the story.
Alone, no family nor friends.
Lonely, neglected and mistreated by the villagers
Yearning then finding the acceptance she needs.
Cat for a friend; wanting to be a midwife's apprentice.
English life in the 1300s.
Using the Author's Notes at the end of the story, create a
timeline showing how the history of midwifery and its influence in
Make a Story Chain
Cut strips of paper, approximately 1 1/2 inches wide and 4 inches long. Instead of cutting strips of paper for this, you can use adding machine
tape. Give them to each group,
asking them to list the important events on each strip (one event per strip). Then make a paper
chain with the strips. On the events in which Alyce's life begin to change, have the students put
glitter, stars, or some other object. This will give the students a visual reminder of how
characters change within a story.
Using the cube pattern, have the students cut it out. Then on one face, write the name of a character: Alyce, Will, Jane, Jennet, etc. On the other faces, write the words that describe the character. Beneath the word, give an example from the book that verifies this trait. Illustrate.
The Importance of an Education
Compare and Contrast
- Alyce felt that she was stupid, not only because of how others treated
her, but because she did not know how to read and write. Yet the scholar
at the inn taught her how to read and write. How did this change Alyce?
- Write a short paragraph explaining why it is important to be able to read
and write today. Present your argument to the class.
Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast Alyce with another character, such as Purr or Will Russet. Then write two short paragraphs from the graphic organizer showing how they were alike and different.
- While she was working at the inn, Alyce and Jennet's family celebrated Christmas. Compare the Christmas traditions of from merry ole England to those we have today.
- Not everyone in the United States celebrates Christmas. How many different religious or ethnic celebrations are held in your community or surrounding areas? Choose one to research and create an informational flyer on it. Be sure to cite your sources!
Research Using Technology
For more information on Karen Cushman, including a copy of her acceptance
speech at the Newbery Awards and an article from her husband Philip,
please use the following Internet site:
Education Place (http://www.eduplace.
The Web sites below are ones that you can use either as a teacher or
student resource for the Middle Ages.