Thursday, January 24, 2008

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

Schlitz, Laura Amy. 2007. GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! Ill. by Robert Byrd. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick. ISBN 0763615781 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-9]

This Newbery award winning book echoes Canterbury Tales, a bit of Shakespeare, and the children’s classic, CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY, all rolled into one. Twenty-three different young villagers introduce themselves to readers through poetic monologues and dialogues. They share details about their daily lives, whether they’re at the top of the social class structure with the lord or near the bottom with the villeins. In addition, their relationships with each other are referenced and developed as we come to understand the challenges of village life. Tiny sidebars help explain key terms and concepts in clever ways that are playful and helpful. Occasional factual inserts offer “A Little Background” on the three-field system, pilgrimages, the Crusades, falconry, and more. Robert Byrd’s illustrations throughout help us visualize each character as well as the village context, all in a style reminiscent of an illuminated manuscript. This poetic book is carefully researched, beautifully written, clearly organized, and sure to come alive when young readers give voice to these words.

The author originally wrote this book as a set of monologues and dialogues for her fifth grade students to perform. So, invite children to choose their favorite excerpt to practice and read aloud. They may want to learn more about this fascinating time period through resource books such as the Eyewitness book, MEDIEVAL LIFE (DK, 2004) or HOW WOULD YOU SURVIVE IN THE MIDDLE AGES by Fiona MacDonald and David Salariya (Franklin Watts, 1997) or Web sites such as

Other historical books for young people with poetic monologues:
Fleischman, Paul. BULL RUN. ISBN 0064405885
Hesse, Karen. WITNESS. ISBN 0439272009
Lester, Julius. DAY OF TEARS. ISBN 0786804904

By Sylvia M. Vardell

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