My Spring Reading List!

After the heavier reading of Lent, I thought I'd like to continue some inspirational spiritual reading through the Easter season as well. 

Here's my book list!

Private and Pithy lessons from Scripture - Mother Angelica
Little Book of Life Lessons - Mother Angelica
Three to Get Married - Fulton Sheen
The Little Oratory
Diary Sister Faustina
Getting Past Perfect - Kate Wicker
The Words We Pray - Amy Welborn
Perfectly Yourself - Matthew Kelly 
Crossing the Threshold of Hope - Pope John Paul II

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The Controversy of The Midwife's Apprentice

A few years ago when Sam was old enough to participate in our community center's Medieval Festival, the library offered a reading circle in partnership with the event. The book they decided to read was Karen Cushman's, "The Midwife's Apprentice."

I had never heard of this book before but was soon drawn into the story and the life of poor Alyce, the much abused, but very bright apprentice. Being a supporter of midwives and homebirths in general (having had several homebirths myself)I was also intrigued by the stories of midwifery and childbirth from an anthropological standpoint.

Sam and I thoroughly enjoyed the book and even did some of the activities I found on line to compliment our reading. Two years later Gabriel was ready for the feast and I brought out our copy of The Midwife's apprentice and found I enjoyed it as much as I had the first time! I even borrowed the library's copy of "Kathryn called Birdie" which was the followup to "The Midwife's Apprentice" and enjoyed that as well.

I was very surprised then to discover that one of the Catholic Yahoo Groups I belong to has banned the sale of this book from its site. It didn't really explain why, but I found this review from the Catholic League that may be related:

The 1996 Newbery Medal winner, The MidwifeÂ’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman, takes place in the Middle Ages. The midwife of the story is a Catholic who goes to Mass on Sunday, yet she is hard-hearted to the point of cruelty, doing her job "without care, compassion, or joy." An adulterous relationship thrown in for good measure intensifies the degradation of her character. One asks if it could be mere coincidence that the midwife is the only person in the story depicted as an observant Catholic. What is worse, the author, in a postscript note characterizing the medieval midwifeÂ’s repertory as a blend of herbal medicine and magic, states, "Superstitions included the use of relics, water from holy wells, charms, and magic words." It is highly insulting to Catholics to have the use of sacramentals equated with superstitious practices, which are condemned by the Church. The many other honors bestowed on The MidwifeÂ’s Apprentice show that there is considerable support in the library and publishing fields for anti-Catholic bias.

I think this book is probably best for Jr. High or late elementary. Gabe enjoyed me reading it to him last year when he was in the fourth grade. It is the story of a very poor, unnamed, orphan girl in medieval times, whose main occupation is to stave of the hunger pains constantly present in her stomach. She survives by eating scraps and digging into a dung heap at night to keep warm. She tries to stay unnoticed and out of the way until she is run out of the village. Thus she survives like this, traveling alone and unwanted from place to place. She is more than happy then to find regular work with the midwife who at least gives her a bit of bread to eat, although the midwife is very cruel and cold to her otherwise. This girl, called Dung Beatle, learns the art of midwifery by watching the midwife attend births. She learns about the different herbs and remedies the midwife uses during birth and for nursing mothers. A high point in the book for me is when she goes to the fair to buy supplies for the midwife and someone mistakes her for a girl named Alyce. She thinks it is wonderful that someone could mistake HER for some with such a pretty name and from that point on she refers to herself as Alyce.

Alyce struggles with her confidence and with a sense of belonging to the village. Moreover once she is better fed, she spends a lot of time coming to terms with her life and her purpose.

I think the book gives a real flavor for the time. Medieval times were full of superstitions and Cushman does illustrate that in her book. The Catholic league opposed how the author used relics and sacramentals in the book, but anyone with an Eastern European grandmother might remember similar superstitious practices that were more cultural really than anything else. The Catholic League also made a big deal out of the midwife attending mass and yet being so cruel and unkind as well as carrying on an adulterous relationship. It was my impression that the entire village was Catholic and they weren't an entirely virtuous lot. However, I did not take that as a slam against Catholicism but rather a more realistic look at human nature and medieval living. Catholics unfortunately are not immune to sin. The midwife is a supporting character. The protagonist is the orphaned and impoverished Alyce. This is the story of her journey from just surviving in extreme poverty, to finding a sense of worth and purpose in this world.

The Midwife's Apprentice is an uplifting and interesting story. The few parts that might be objectionable (and they didn't offend me because I took them mostly as historical or studies in human nature rather than as anti-Catholicism) can easily be explained by parents and perhaps even used as a springboard to other conversations.

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