Initially, Brat is hard to relate to. She lives in a vastly different time period, and has grown up differently than most people are familiar with. As the story goes on, and as her name changes, the reader becomes more involved with Beetle’s life and dreams. She wants to belong, to be cared for, to have a name. More specifically, she wants “a full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world” (81) - something everyone can identify with.
You don’t have to be a history buff to know that Cushman has done her research. She presents this story in an era where midwives were a necessity, and class didn’t matter - whether you could pay in gold, or pay in potatoes, you would be treated the same by the matter-of-fact midwife. The subject matter is presented very honestly, and might be better for older children who have an understanding of childbirth and hardships.
The setting was described very vividly. Readers will have no problem envisioning the poor village where Beetle learns her trade, from the dung pile where she once slept, to the somewhat-isolated inn where she works.
The overarching theme of this book is that every person has value. Beetle grew up poor and homeless, unable to care for herself, and that turns around completely by the end of the book. However, realizing she can be a midwife even if she has previously failed should a major turning point, but the most important part seems to be that Beetle is pretty underneath all the dirt. That theme is relevant today, of course, but I would have expected something more revolutionary from a historical book that tackles such a unique topic.
The language is a bit stilted, and might be hard for children to read on their own, or even understand when read aloud. It doesn’t hinder the story since it seems historically accurate, but it might prevent readers from diving right in to the book.
Catherine, Called Birdy, ISBN 9780547722184
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, ISBN 9780547722153
Matilda Bone, ISBN 9780440418221
Will Sparrow’s Road, ISBN 9780544336322
Alchemy and Meggy Swann, ISBN 9780547577128