Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz

  • Title: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village
  • Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
  • Illustrator: Robert Byrd
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Year Published: 2007
  • ISBN: 0763615781
  • List Price: $19.99
  • Page Count: 96
  • Age Range: 10-14
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Award(s): Newbery Medal Winner; more here.

Author information: Laura Amy Schlitz is a librarian, playwright, and children’s book author. She does not have a website, but her publisher, Candlewick Press, has a short biography of her. Schlitz has been a school librarian for over thirteen years and cites the children she works with as a source of inspiration for her. She also spent time touring the country with a children’s theater company. Publisher’s Weekly did an interview with Schlitz after the release of her Newbery Honor book, Splendors and Glooms. In the interview, PW asks her many questions about her new book as well as questions about her writing habits. She admits that she sometimes finds it difficult to sit down and focus on writing, but she has a 30 minute trick to keep herself motivated. She forces herself to write, with no distractions, for a full half hour. After that, if she is uninspired she allows herself to stop, but if she’s in a groove she will keep writing. Schlitz also says that she would never quit her school librarian job to write full time because the children there are her inspiration and give her energy.

Reviews: Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist all gave this title starred reviews. All of these reviews comment upon the fact that each character has a distinct voice that separates him or her from the others while still maintaining a cohesive flow to the book. They also comment on how the artwork enhances the monologues and the fact that the historical asides and pages of background information are lively and unobtrusive. Booklist says, “although often the characters’ specific concerns are very much of their time, their outlooks and emotional states will be familiar to young people today”.

Readers annotation: Ever wondered what life was like in a medieval village?

Summary: This book depicts what life was like in medieval times through the use of 23 unique characters, all with a monologue or two person scene devoted to their perspective. These characters range from nobility, such as Isobel, the Lord’s daughter who is angry and hurt by the fact that one of the village children threw mud at her, to the lower classes, such as Giles, a beggar boy who swindles locals with his father. Other voices include those of a glassblower’s apprentice, a varlet’s child, the Lord’s nephew, and the money-lender’s son, among others. Each of these characters offers a look at life during the medieval period from their unique points of view, which sometimes overlap or contradict each other. Interspersed with these stories is background information about the time, such as the experience of Jews in medieval society or the purpose of pilgrimages.

Evaluation: This book has left me more conflicted than any others I’ve read for this class so far. The style can initially be daunting; in order to preserve historical accuracy, all of the characters speak in a manner similar to Shakespearean English, which takes a few monologues to get used to. Also, most of these monologues are written in verse, which can also discourage a youth reader. However, this book is wholly charming once the reader adjusts to the format. Each character has a unique place in this constructed medieval town, and each faces his or her own trials due to his or her status. Some of these tales overlap in ways that allow the reader to get multiple perspectives, such as when the Lord’s daughter laments the fact that a stranger threw mud at her, and the following monologue is told from the perspective of the downtrodden, hopeless girl who did the throwing. The historical back story that is given after some of these scenes enriches the reader’s understanding of the time period, and the medieval-style artwork also helps set the tone of the book and make it feel authentic. It is easy to imagine how this book could be used in a classroom setting, and I believe that students would really enjoy acting out different roles and playing them for an audience of their peers or parents. Although I think children would enjoy it in this context, I don’t believe that many children would choose to read this book for pleasure, especially considering the abundance of easier to read, faster-paced titles that are available.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 5/5  This book has a clever format that helps the reader fully imagine what life would be like for different members of a medieval community. The characters are, on the whole, likable and sympathetic, the artwork is charming, and the background information is useful and interesting.
  • Popularity: 2/5  As mentioned above, it is difficult to imagine a child choosing this book for pleasure reading. However, if this title were used in a classroom setting, children would enjoy the fresh approach to the topic and their ability to become involved in the story by acting out one or more of the scenes within the book.
  • Appeal factors: theater and drama, historical fiction, multiple perspectives.

Read-alikes: 

  1. This book is very difficult to select read-alikes for due to its unique nature. For readers who enjoyed learning about the different occupations and lifestyles of the different characters, Archers, Alchemists, and 98 Other Medieval Jobs You Might Have Loved or Loathed by Priscilla Galloway could be a good fit. This book looks at a variety of different professions during this time period and what each of them would have entailed.

Book talk ideas: Start by telling readers that this is an unusual book; it shows the reader what life was like in medieval Europe through monologues and scenes from 23 different characters. Because the strength is in the voices of each of these characters, perhaps read a short monologue from the book to illustrate the dynamic voices that appear. Tell readers that this book provides great insight into a time period where people lived very different lives than we do now, and let them know that the book is full of interesting and weird facts about the times that are interspersed throughout the scenes.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  1. If you had to read one of these monologues or be one of these characters, which would you choose?
  2. What was the most surprising thing you learned about medieval times from this book?
  3. Which character do you think had the best life? The worst? Why?

Reason for reading: One of my co-workers recommended this book to me when I mentioned that I was taking this class. She told me it was a series of monologues and plays set in a medieval context, and that the author also wrote Splendors and Glooms, which I loved. Although I wasn’t sure how I felt about the format of the book at first, I decided to try it out.

Additional relevant information: Schlitz decided to write this book because The Park School, where she works as a children’s librarian, was studying the time period and wanted to do some sort of a performance, but nobody wanted a small part, which inevitably happens with traditional plays. To remedy this situation. Schlitz decided to create a series of monologues and two person scenes that they could perform, that way each student would get an opportunity to be center stage and the star of the show.

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