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Children's Literature Reviews
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Good masters! Sweet Ladies! : voices from a medieval village
Laura Amy Schlitz ; illustrated by Robert Byrd.
Contributor biographical information
Publisher description
Cambridge, Mass. : Candlewick Press, c2007.
85 p. : col. ill. ; 27 cm.


Includes bibliographical references (p. 82-85).
Hugo, the Lord's nephew -- Taggot, the blacksmith's daughter -- Will, the plowboy -- Alice, the shepherdess -- Thomas, the doctor's son -- Constance, the pilgrim -- Mogg, the villein's daughter -- Otho, the miller's son -- Jack, the half-wit -- Simon, the knight's son -- Edgar, the falconer's son -- Isobel, the Lord's daughter -- Barbary, the mud slinger -- Jacob Ben Salomon, the moneylender's son and Petronella, the merchant's daughter -- Lowdy, the varlet's child -- Pask, the runaway -- Piers, the glassblower's apprentice -- Mariot and Maud, the glassblower's daughters -- Nelly, the sniggler -- Drago, the tanner's apprentice -- Giles, the beggar.
A collection of short one-person plays featuring characters, between ten and fifteen years old, who live in or near a thirteenth-century English manor.

Best Books:

Best Children's Books of the Year, 2008 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Booklist Book Review Stars , Aug. 1, 2007 ; American Library Association; United States
Booklist Editors' Choice: Books for Youth, 2007 ; American Library Association; United States
Bulletin Blue Ribbons, 2007 ; The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; United States
Capitol Choices, 2008 ; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
Choices, 2008 ; Cooperative Children's Book Center; United States
Kirkus Best Children's Books, 2007 ; Kirkus; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, July 15, 2007 ; United States
Middle and Junior High Schoool Library Catalog, Ninth Edition Supplement 2008, 2008 ; H.W. Wilson Company; United States
Notable Children's Books in the English Language Arts, 2008 ; NCTE Children's Literature Assembly; United States
Notable Children's Books, 2008 ; ALSC American Library Association; United States
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 2008 ; National Council for Social Studies; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, August 27, 2007 ; Cahners; United States
School Library Journal Best Books, 2007 ; Cahners; United States
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, August 2007 ; Cahners; United States

Awards, Honors, Prizes:

Cybil Award, 2007 Finalist Poetry United States
John Newbery Medal, 2008 Winner United States
Parents' Choice Award, 2007 Gold Fiction United States

State and Provincial Reading Lists:

Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award, 2008-2009 ; Master List; Vermont
Maine Student Book Award, 2008-2009 ; Nominee; Maine

Curriculum Tools:

Link to Teaching Guide from Publisher

Reading Measurement Programs:

Accelerated Reader
Interest Level Middle Grade
Book Level 5.6
Accelerated Reader Points 2

Lexile, MetaMetrics, Inc.

Reading Counts-Scholastic
Interest Level 6-8
Reading Level 8
Title Point Value 7
Lexile Measure NP


Carolyn Phelan (Booklist, Aug. 1, 2007 (Vol. 103, No. 22))
Starred Review* The author of A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama (2006), Schlitz turns to a completely different kind of storytelling here. Using a series of interconnected monologues and dialogues featuring young people living in and around an English manor in 1255, she offers first-person character sketches that build upon each other to create a finer understanding of medieval life. The book was inspired by the necessity of creating a play suitable for a classroom where “no one wanted a small part.” Each of the 23 characters (between 10 and 15 years old) has a distinct personality and a societal role revealed not by recitation of facts but by revelation of memories, intentions, and attitudes. Sometimes in prose and more often in one of several verse forms, the writing varies nicely from one entry to the next. Historical notes appear in the vertical margins, and some double-page spreads carry short essays on topics related to individual narratives, such as falconry, the Crusades, and Jews in medieval society. Although often the characters’ specific concerns are very much of their time, their outlooks and emotional states will be familiar to young people today. Reminiscent of medieval art, Byrd’s lively ink drawings, tinted with watercolors, are a handsome addition to this well-designed book. This unusually fine collection of related monologues and dialogues promises to be a rewarding choice for performance or for reading aloud in the classroom. Grades 5-8

Kate Reynolds (Children's Book and Play Review, September 2007)
As stated in the forward Schlitz wrote this book to give the students at her school something to perform based on their studies of the Middle Ages. However, rather than write one long play she wrote monologues and dialogues so that each student would have an equal part--leaving no one feeling slighted. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! contains 19 monologues and two dialogues, allowing for a total of up to 23 students to participate. The skits themselves introduce characters, male and female from the ages of about 10 to 15, who live in a fictitious medieval village. They introduce jobs, customs, and concepts prevalent in the Middle Ages but that may be somewhat obscure for modern children. Specific terms or references that may not be understood are explained in side notes. Following certain skits are longer explanations: after the plowboy's monologue there is a page about the three-field system, and after an exchange between the moneylender's son and the merchant's daughter there is a discussion about Jews in the Middle Ages. Byrd's illustrations are not in the style of the time period but are very accessible to the audience who will be using the book. Likewise, Schlitz uses modern diction and spelling rather than the language of the time period. The skits are fun but informative at the same time. Highly recommended for extending a Middle Ages library collection or for use in cross-curricular activities. Rating: Excellent. Reading Level: Intermediate. Category: Historical drama; Informational books. 2007, Candlewick Press, 85 p., $19.99. © 2002, Brigham Young University.

Debbie Levy (Children's Literature)
Good Readers! Sweet Librarians! This delightfully unusual collection of monologues, dialogues, and poems presents the voices of various inhabitants of an English village in 1255--but this description does not begin to convey the life, humor, empathy, and drama that imbue every page. Not so slowly, but oh so surely (and slyly), the characters--Thomas, the doctor’s son; Mogg, the villein’s daughter; Lowdy, the varlet’s child; Nelly, the sniggler; and eighteen more--mesmerize the reader with their stories and observations. Even Schlitz’s marginal notes, in which she explains unfamiliar words and imparts fascinating tidbits, are written with panache. (A varlet, by the way, means scoundrel today, but was a word used for a man who looked after animals in the Middle Ages; a sniggler is a person who fished for eels by dangling bait in their riverbank holes.) Schlitz packs more plot in these interconnected vignettes than can be found in many novels. Sometimes she does it with rhyme that is sophisticated yet accessible (Thomas the doctor’s son begins, “My father is the noble lord’s physician/And I am bound to carry on tradition”). Sometimes she does it in prose (Nelly the sniggler describes eels as “Fresher than the day they were born--and fat as priests”). She presents, in tandem, the musings of Jacob ben Salomon, the moneylender’s son, and Petronella, the merchant’s daughter, as they breach the divide between Jews and Christians by skipping stones with each other across a stream. The vignettes are supplemented by several two-page sidebars on issues such as Jews in medieval society, falconry, medieval pilgrims, and more. Byrd’s colorful pen-and-ink drawings reflect the style of a thirteenth-century illuminated manuscript, greatly enhancing the reader’s experience of this remarkable book. 2007, Candlewick, $19.99. Ages 10 up.

CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, 2008)
First-person monologues from twenty-three children all living on the same medieval English manor in 1255 offer a window into what life was like more than 700 years ago. Since they all come from the same little piece of land, their world view is necessarily constricted, but each child has a distinct life experience, and, taken as a whole, their voices provide rich insight into time, place, and character. We see children of varying classes, from the son of a knight and daughter of a lord to the children of tradesmen, a shepherd, a plowboy, and a beggar. Sometimes we also see their interactions: the nephew of the lord of the manor describes his first boar hunt (he’s terrified) while the blacksmith’s daughter describes a visit from the lord’s nephew (she’s terrified). Two of the poems are written for two voices. One describes a chance encounter between a Jewish boy and a Christian girl, who each have prejudicial feelings toward the other, and the second shows dual points of view of the glass-makers daughters, who have very different feelings about their father’s apprentice. Interspersed between the monologues are background notes about medieval life covering topics such as the three-field system, pilgrimages, falconry, and Jews in medieval society. In addition, marginal notes provide necessary definitions and context, and are often tinged with humor, as are the monologues themselves. Exquisite pen-and-ink miniatures suggest thirteenth-century illuminated manuscripts, and an opening double-page spread provides an illustrated map of the manor, placing each character within it. CCBC Category: Historical People, Places, and Events. 2007, Candlewick Press, 85 pages, $19.99. Ages 8-12.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2007 (Vol. 75, No. 14))
Schlitz takes the breath away with unabashed excellence in every direction. This wonderfully designed and produced volume contains 17 monologues for readers ten to 15, each in the voice of a character from an English town in 1255. Some are in verse; some in prose; all are interconnected. The language is rich, sinewy, romantic and plainspoken. Readers will immediately cotton to Taggot, the blacksmith's daughter, who is big and strong and plain, and is undone by the sprig of hawthorn a lord's nephew leaves on her anvil. Isobel the lord's daughter doesn't understand why the peasants throw mud at her silks, but readers will: Barbary, exhausted from caring for the baby twins with her stepmother who is pregnant again, flings the muck in frustration. Two sisters speak in tandem, as do a Jew and a Christian, who marvel in parallel at their joy in skipping stones on water. Double-page spreads called "A little background" offer lively information about falconry, The Crusades, pilgrimages and the like. Byrd's watercolor-and-ink pictures add lovely texture and evoke medieval illustration without aping it. Brilliant in every way. (foreword, bibliography) 2007, Candlewick, 96p, $18.99. Category: Nonfiction. Ages 10 to 15. Starred Review. © 2007 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
Schlitz (The Hero Schliemann\n) wrote these 22 brief monologues to be performed by students at the school where she is a librarian; here, bolstered by lively asides and unobtrusive notes, and illuminated by Byrd's (Leonard, Beautiful Dreamer) \nstunningly atmospheric watercolors, they bring to life a prototypical English village in 1255. Adopting both prose and verse, the speakers, all young, range from the half-wit to the lord's daughter, who explains her privileged status as the will of God. The doctor's son shows off his skills (“Ordinary sores/ Will heal with comfrey, or the white of an egg,/ An eel skin takes the cramping from a leg”); a runaway villein (whose life belongs to the lord of his manor) hopes for freedom after a year and a day in the village, if only he can calculate the passage of time; an eel-catcher describes her rough infancy: her “starving poor took me up to drown in a bucket of water.” (He relents at the sight of her “wee fingers” grasping at the sides of the bucket.) Byrd, basing his work on a 13th-century German manuscript, supplies the first page of each speaker's text with a tone-on-tone patterned border overset with a square miniature. Larger watercolors, some with more intricate borders, accompany explanatory text for added verve. The artist does not channel a medieval style; rather, he mutes his palette and angles some lines to hint at the period, but his use of cross-hatching and his mostly realistic renderings specifically welcome a contemporary readership. Ages 10-up. (Aug.)\n"

Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, September 2007 (Vol. 61, No. 1))
What Schlitz sets out to do is ambitious enough—create a set of readers theater styled monologues (and a couple of pieces for two voices) about medieval occupations, so that every student can have a starring role in a class production. She surpasses that goal with her achievement—a vivid, convincing portrait of medieval adolescence, where teens who will probably never travel beyond the fields outside the walled and gated town have already begun their life’s work. Some, like the scion of a knightly family fallen on hard times, are on their way down in the world; others, like beggar Giles, look forward to freedom if they can but survive in town for a year and a day. Several guard personal secrets: beefy, uncomely Taggot will probably never leave her father’s anvil, but she dreams about the lord’s nephew; pilgrim Constance hopes for a cure at St. Winifred’s Well; Barbary, who has seen enough of her stepmother’s misery to dread a future that includes marriage and childbirth, covertly flings dung at the lord’s privileged daughter and allows the village boys to take the blame. Each player has a distinctive voice, and roles are rendered in free verse, simple prose, or a variety of rhyme schemes. The emotional palette is equally varied, from the rueful comedy of the miller and doctor’s sons, who are learning the deceptive tricks of their trades, to the tentative friendship between a Christian girl and Jewish boy who meet at the river, delight momentarily in their common interests, and then draw away from each other in shame at having nearly denied their respective faiths by crossing a forbidden social line. Schlitz offers performance hints, definitions, and pronunciation tips in sidebars, and longer explanations about such customs as pilgrimage, agriculture, and falconry in additional insets. Although she states the pieces can be read in any order, she has already positioned them to allow several stories to intersect, subtly underscoring the closed nature of village society. Spacious layout and generous font size facilitate readalouds, and the handsome design, embellished with Byrd’s medieval-esque illustrations, vignettes, and borders, will draw readers who approach the presentation as a collection of related poems to be enjoyed independently. A bibliography of Schlitz’s sources is included. Review Code: R* -- Recommended. A book of special distinction. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2007, Candlewick, 86p, $19.99. Grades 6-9.

Marsha Harper (The Lorgnette - Heart of Texas Reviews (Vol. 20, No. 3))
The 2007 Newbery Medal Book lives up to its acclaim as the year’s outstanding book of children’s literature. The author, school librarian Laura Schlitz, brings performance art to the Middle Ages with this work. To enhance her students’ understandings of that period, Schlitz pens a book of 19 monologs and two dialogs, each giving a voice to characters from a typical medieval village in England in 1255. Most of the pieces are in poetry. Each of them has notes in the margins, some like footnotes; others giving definitions or explanations--or stage directions. The characters are from all walks of life in that time, from the lord’s nephew and the knight’s son to the children of craftsmen such as the glassblower, or tradesmen like the merchant, the blacksmith, the miller. Both men and women, good people and wicked, are here, with many occupations represented. Only the clergy is left out. Otherwise, Schlitz gives a fairly inclusive picture of society in the Middle Ages. She also includes six short essays giving background information on farming (the three-field system), pilgrimages, the crusades, falconry, the Jews in medieval society, and towns and freedom--a painless way to add some prosy history to the poetry of her monologs. The pieces themselves are both representative of a class or occupation and individual expressions of a real person--sometimes funny, sometimes piteous, or wrathful, or indignant. It is easy to hear real voices in them. And what fun young students of acting or of history can have performing this book! The latter will be aided by Robert Byrd’s detailed illustrations of costumes, “sets,” and “props” (based on a thirteenth-century illustrated manuscript). Also helpful is the lengthy bibliography. All in all, this is an excellent book. I recommend it as a “must purchase,” especially for middle school libraries. Nonfiction. Grades 6-8. 2007, Candlewick, 85p., $19.99. Ages 11 to 14.


Middle Ages Juvenile drama.
Monologues Juvenile literature.
Children's plays, American.
Middle Ages Drama.

Reproduction Number:

Junior Library Guild
LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng) PS3619.C43 C55 2007
2003065256 812/.6
0763615781 (reinforced) : $19.99
9780763615789 (reinforced) : $19.99
View the WorldCat Record for this item.