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Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Interactive Ideas, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions, Teacher & Parent Recommendations, Young Adult Readers

GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! VOICES FROM A MEDIEVAL VILLAGE by Laura Amy Schlitz

 by Laura Amy SchlitzGood Masters!  Sweet Ladies! won the Newberry Medal in 2008.  I am embarrassed to say that it has been sitting on my shelf since I bought it in 2009.

Ms. Schlitz has brought together a collection of monologues narrated by 22 separate characters from medieval times.  They are wealthy, poor, tradespeople, servants and lords of the manor.  They are almost exclusively children which is what offers this particular book the opportunity to appeal to young readers who might not ordinarily read about the trials and tribulations of daily life in the 13th Century.

Sandwiched between the short monologues are brief pockets of background information on many of the people and events to which the narrators allude.  These include topics such as:  the Three-Field System, Medieval Pilgrammages, the Crusades, Falconry and Jews in Medieval Society.

The book works as an independent read for an adult or a motivated young reader.  It lends itself, however, to: (a) being a read-aloud with the goal of discussion or launching into a unit on medieval history, etc; or (b) performing each monologue/story for an audience in the tradition of theatre.

Because the details of the narratives are accurate regarding hunting practices and opinions on women and social hierarchies a teacher/director will want to choose which monologues are most appropriate to a given cast and audience.

The imagery of the language is rich and the indivual character voices are unique and genuine, varying from contentment to desperation and resentment to hope.  The book transports the reader (or listener, as the case may be) to the middle of a typical 13th Century village. Through the voices of its inhabitants we enter their lives momentarily and leave with a greater understanding of the contents of their days, and of their minds and hearts as well.  Through the experience of the individual stories the “typical” 13th Century village becomes very personal to us.

Although many thought this a strange choice for the Newberry Award in 2008 (including myself) its brilliance is blatant when you sit down to read it.  I intend to incorporate it into my theatre teaching curriculum in as many ways as I can from this point forward.

If you are interested in medieval times, planning to teach a unit about it, or looking for some unique monologue and performance opportunities, do yourself a favor and read Good Masters!  Sweet Ladies! It is an absolutely worthwhile read and an unbelieveably rich resource!

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