Matilda Bone


This fall, just a few days before school was to begin, a young friend was hired on at a neighboring school as a brand new 6th grade teacher.  My heart went out to her, knowing what challenges she would meet this year, how much she would have to learn in a very short time, and how many books and materials she would need to help teach the complex curriculum of that grade level.  So I gave her my 6th grade class library, which had been in storage boxes (11 of them) since I left the 6th grade so suddenly three years ago. She is using them well, and I’m happy because I wouldn’t been able to part with those books to anyone less worthy, to paraphrase Donald Sutherland playing Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice.

Even though I love teaching second grade now, I often find myself missing favorite units and favorite books from my 6th grade years.  Matilda Bone, by Karen Cushman, was a book that many of my students read during and after our Middle Ages unit, and it was one book I kept instead of giving away because I had read Cushman’s other historical novels — The Midwife’s Apprentice, and Catherine, Called Birdy — but hadn’t read Matilda Bone yet.

And I particularly enjoyed this story of a 14-year old orphan girl, who had been cared for at the manor after her father’s death, and educated by the priest, Father Leufradus. She could read and write in Latin, something very unusual for the time, but she knew more about religion than about life, and more about saints than people. When she was sent to help the local bonesetter, Red Peg, her true education and growing up began.

From Scholastic:

Newbery medalist Karen Cushman assembles a cast of unforgettable characters in a fascinating and pungent setting: the medical quarter of a medieval English village. To Blood and Bone Alley, home of leech, barber-surgeon, and apothecary, comes Matilda, raised by a priest to be pious and learned, and now destined to assist Red Peg the Bonesetter. To Matilda’s dismay, her work will not involve Latin or writing, but lighting the fire, going to market, mixing plasters and poultices, and helping Peg treat patients. Matilda is appalled by the worldliness of her new surroundings and yearns for the days at the manor when all she did was study and pray. Lonely and misunderstood, she seems destined for a fate as tragic as that of any of the sharp-tongued saints she turns to for advice.

I loved that the people surrounding Matilda in this story treated her with such patience and kindness as she learned to be less pious and judgmental.  I was also very interested in the medical aspect of the book — Cushman did a tremendous amount of research in preparation for writing it.   It was an enjoyable read, and I’m glad I finally read it.

Other terrific reads about Medieval times from my old 6th grade library:

Crispin and the Cross of Lead, by Avi

The Ramsey Scallop, by Frances Temple

A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, by E. L. Konigsburg

The Squire’s Tale, by Gerald Morris

4 thoughts on “Matilda Bone

  1. Charles


    When my youngest son, now 26 and the father of my only grandson, was in grade school, he never read for pleasure. He rarely does now. The old saying that being a reader and reading to your children will give them a love for reading isn’t always true.

    However, when my son was in sixth grade or so, we got him to try novels by Gary Paulsen.

    From Wikipedia about “Hatchet” : Brian Robeson is stranded and alone in the Canadian wilderness after the pilot of the single-engine Cessna plane in which he is traveling suffers a fatal heart attack. Brian is forced to try to land the plane, but ends up crash-landing the plane into the trees and sliding down into the water. He just manages to escape as the plane sinks in a remote lake.

    I read the novel first just to see what I was giving my son to read. Even for an adult it’s a pretty good read. And my son liked it and read several more by the same author. I believe many girls would like novels by Paulsen.

    Paulsen has also written books for adults, including “Winterdance, the Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod.” (The marathon dog-sled race every year in Alaska.) It is an account of his preparation for and participation in that race. It is facinating and downright hilarious at times.


  2. Val

    Robin do you think Matilda Bone would be OK for an 8 going on for 9 year old? or is it to ‘Old’? do you think?

    I’m trying to find age appropriate, interesting reads.. the reading level is no problem

    She loves the humour of Catherine Storr’s Polly and the Wolf stories and she also loved Ronia the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren …

    Hope you don’t mind me asking

    Thanks Val


  3. Robin Post author

    Hi Charles. Gary Paulsen’s books were absolute favorites of my 6th graders. I love his work, too!

    Val, I think Matilda Bone is a good fit for 5th-8th graders, but it does depend on the reader. Don’t know if that helps…



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