Step back to an English village in 1255, where life plays out in dramatic vignettes illuminating twenty-two unforgettable characters.
Maidens, monks, and millers’ sons — in these pages, readers will meet them all. There’s Hugo, the lord’s nephew, forced to prove his manhood by hunting a wild boar; sharp-tongued Nelly, who supports her family by selling live eels; and the peasant’s daughter, Mogg, who gets a clever lesson in how to save a cow from a greedy landlord. There’s also mud-slinging Barbary (and her noble victim); Jack, the compassionate half-wit; Alice, the singing shepherdess; and many more. With a deep appreciation for the period and a grand affection for both characters and audience, Laura Amy Schlitz creates twenty-two riveting portraits and linguistic gems equally suited to silent reading or performance. Illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings by Robert Byrd — inspired by the Munich-Nuremberg manuscript, an illuminated poem from thirteenth-century Germany — this witty, historically accurate, and utterly human collection forms an exquisite bridge to the people and places of medieval England.
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices From a Medieval Villageby Laura Amy Schlitz
Imagine opening a time-worn box; as you pull the flaps back, wondrous and delightful objects gleam before you. Laura Amy Schlitz’s book Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village is just like that. She has created a series of small plays, 17 monologues and 2 dialogues, about children between the ages of ten and fifteen who could have lived on an English manor in 1255. Schlitz, a school librarian, wrote them for classes in her school that were studying medieval England. There were seventeen students in each class, hence 17 plays so everyone could have a part.
What are the wondrous objects inside this book? First, the reader cannot help but become emotionally involved with the characters. Their situations are engaging and thought-provoking. Each character has a different perspective of his or her life on the manor and their voices are sometimes funny, haunting, and heartbreaking. Ms. Schlitz skillfully draws relationships between some of them that beg for further development but imagination has to fill in the blanks. The relationship between Hugo, the Lord’s nephew, and Taggot, the blacksmith’s daughter, is especially poignant.
Another gem from the box is the different forms that are employed to carry the reader into the story. Much of it is poetry. Not all children are drawn in by poetry but both the free and rhymed verse flow so easily from the pages that the reader doesn’t even realize it is poetry. A sprinkling of narrative is thrown in for variety. The author pauses at times between the plays to give explanation of the time period. It is almost as if she is saying, “Let’s take a break to get caught up and then we can dive back into the story.” She provides definitions for the archaic words and notes in the sidebar for clarification.
The third treasure from the Ms. Schlitz’s box is that readers are learning as they are being entertained. The reader or performer is absorbing interesting information as they participate that will provide a background for other studies and they don’t even realize it is history. One thing they will realize is that their lives are so much better than a child living on a medieval manor.
The last delights are the colorful and detailed illustrations by Robert Bird. They manage to not only compliment the story but add another layer to the storytelling.
Ms. Schlitz’s research is meticulous but not overwhelming, even though her bibliography is extensive. Medieval England has been a favorite with this reviewer for many years and even I learned some new things. Not only is Laura Schlitz a perceptive storyteller, she is an educator who understands her audience. Her bio is filled with awards, some of which are the Newbery Medal for this book of plays in 2008 but also the Newbery Honor Medal for Splendors and Glooms in 2013.
Violence/Gore: A killing of a wild boar is described but not in great detail; child and spouse abuse mentioned briefly a few times; a young boy hoping to be a knight describes killing a Saracen; rock thrown at a noble woman by a poor girl.
Mature Subject Matter:
Social class conflicts, war, spouse and child abuse, death of a family member, thieving, cheating.
Alcohol / Drug Use:
Reviewed By Marilyn