The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker

by Cynthia DeFelice
Reading level: Ages 9-12


After 12-year-old Lucas Whitaker loses his whole family to consumption he learns of a bizarre “cure”. When he takes a job as apprentice to the town doctor, he learns about the scientific approach to healing, but seeing so many die, he desperately wants to help other families try the cure that might have saved his family.


ALA Notable Book 1996
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year 1996
Notable Children’s Trade Book in Field of Social Studies 1997
NY Public Library 1997 Best Book for the Teenage
Winner of the Judy Lopez Memorial Award, Women’s National Book Assoc.
1997 Parent’s Choice


A Note from the Author

This book began one Sunday when my husband and I were reading the New York Times. He handed me an article, saying, “This is right up your alley.” He was right. I read about the 1990 discovery of a folk medical practice used throughout New England during the 1800’s. To me, it was so fascinating that I knew I had to write about it. When I get that excited about a piece of history, I believe I have a good chance of writing a story that will get kids excited, too.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction, and the factual background of Lucas’s story is far more weird than anything I could have made up! My research for this book included poking around in cemeteries with the Connecticut state archaeologist. We were “looking into graves” using radar that allowed us to see through the earth and the coffin to the skeleton inside. We were searching for bodies that had been “put to rest” as part of what was believed to be a cure for tuberculosis. If this sounds creepy and interesting, it was! Read the book to find out more….


“DeFelice skillfully gives readers enough historical information to see the reasoning behind the macabre practice and creates in Lucas a flesh and blood boy going through a most difficult time. Hand this title to students who have been assigned historical fiction and consider olden times to be boring.” – Booklist

“The pace of this fine piece of historical fiction is brisk in spite of a wealth of detail that not only establishes the setting but exposes beliefs and attitudes of the day regarding health, hygiene, and witchcraft-Lucas, for example, believes in the common practice of digging up coffins to lay to rest the “undead” who may prey on remaining family members. Readers will be amazed to realize the extraordinary advances in medical knowledge that have occurred in the last hundred years.” – Horn Book

The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker by Cynthia DeFelice
Hardcover: 1st edition (September 1996)
Farrar Straus & Giroux (Juv) ; ISBN: 0374346690
Hardcover: 2nd edition (October 1999)
Econo-Clad Books; ISBN: 0613067924
Paperback: Reprint edition (February 1998), 151 pages
Camelot; ISBN: 0380729202