Matilda is a young girl left at a woman bone setter’s shop by a priest on his way to London. She is growing up in medieval England. At the manor house she studied with the priest, learned to pray and be pious, learned the lives of the saints, some Latin and Greek, and thinks she is well educated. She feels living with the bone setter is beneath her, especially being asked to do tasks such as making the fire, sweeping the floors and cooking. Little by little she learns to value Peg, the bone setter’s, friends and colleagues. She learns independence, how to think for herself, how to make friends and feel compassion for others. I told my 9 year old daughter about a funny passage where she buys a rotten eel because she doesn’t know any better. As she walks down the street everyone moves to the other side of the street from the smell. Emily picked up the book and quickly read the first half today. Yay, my first successful “book sale” in awhile. We talked about how much a penny was probably worth in Matilda’s time. She is sent to the market to buy dinner for two with three pennies and is paid 2 pennies for a week’s work, plus her room and board. I asked Emily if she would be able to survive on her own if she needed to do her own cooking and housekeeping. She said, “Well, if I had money…” as she handed me her lunch plate. Emily also commented that Matilda prays alot. Different times and a different culture, I told her.
I include Matilda Bone in the category of quest literature although it is largely an internal quest to find herself and her own self confidence. She goes on a journey away from her home, she meets wise people who mentor her, she learns to rely on herself and gain life skills instead of just parroting what she learned from the priest. She has various trials learning to care for herself and others and comes out a stronger person in the end.
The author Cushman lives in Oakland and this is her 4th book. Her first, Catherine, Called Birdy, was a Newbery Honor winner and her second, The Midwife’s Apprentice, was awarded the Newbery Medal. This book is 166 pages and has a short bibliography on where to find out more about medieval medicine. ISBN 0-395-88156-0