Friday, March 28, 2008

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

After languishing on the waiting list for over 3 months, I finally received a copy Laura Amy Schlitz's of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! this year's Newbery award winner. This choice must have taken the library by surprise; our original order was only for two copies.

Set in a medieval manor in England, 1255, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is a set of soliloquies by the juvenile inhabitants of the manor. ( exceptions are the two-actor plays featuring Mariot and Maud, the glassblower's daughters, and Jacob and Petronella, a Jew and a Christian that meet by the river) Children from all layers of society are represented in short, one-act plays of 5 to 7 pages. From Hugo, the lord's nephew, to Giles, the beggar, the daily lives of children on a feudal manor are starkly presented and neatly interwoven.

The language is appropriate for both the age and the period, and much is written in verse form - some rhyming, some not. From "Drogo: The Tanner's Apprentice"

"I don't mind the stink -
I grew up with it, being the son of a butcher.
Dead things stink; that's the will of God,
and tanners make good money.

I don't mind the work -
digging the pits
grinding the oak bark
smearing the hides with dung.
Work is work. I like
bread in my belly
and ale in my cup. ..."

Unfamiliar words and occupations are accompanied by footnotes; and short, 1 or 2 page explanations of various aspects of medieval life (The Crusades, falconry, etc.) are interspersed between the plays. A generous bibliography (the author is a librarian!) completes the book.

The artwork by Robert Byrd is reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts of the period. The ink and watercolor illustrations are of the typically flat design, lacking in depth and realism - common to the period and perfect for this book! Pages are bordered by wide, richly-colored, vertical "ribbons."

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! brings history alive as no text book can. Readers can understand the misery of being the miller's son (they were roundly disliked!) or the uncertainty of life as a plowboy or runaway. This book might also make a good choice for a Reader's Theater presentation. I think I'll give it a try.

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