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Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village Hardcover – July 24, 2007

4.7 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Schlitz (The Hero Schliemann ) 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 (Leonardo, Beautiful Dreamer) stunningly 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 [father] 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.
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From Booklist

*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. Phelan, Carolyn

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 - 14 years
  • Grade Level: 5 - 9
  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press; First Edition edition (July 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0763615781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763615789
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.5 x 10.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #230,110 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Allow me to make something perfectly clear. There are, living amongst you, one or two sad souls for whom the name "Laura Amy Schlitz" does not mean anything. This is a state of affairs that does none of us any good. You see, Ms. Schlitz is an author whose time has come. In 2006 she managed to simultaneously produce an epic gothic/realistic/historical/faux-ghost story in the tradition of The Secret Garden and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, while also churning out a truly amusing and interesting bit of non-fiction on the side. You have an assignment. If you have not read A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama or The Hero Schliemann: The Dreamer Who Dug For Troy, do so. You'll be better for it. That done, you may turn your sights onto a book that combines the two things Schlitz does so very well: Research and historical fiction.

Maybe once a month a parent will walk up to my reference desk and ask me where they can find a nice selection of plays for children. Usually I'll direct them to Plays the periodical or wave them towards the 800s, but by and large there's not a lot of quality drama material for kids out there. Nothing that would give them all some great parts, that is. Schlitz acknowledges this fact right from the start in her book. Says the Foreward, "It really isn't possible to write a play with seventeen equally important characters in it.
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Format: Hardcover
Set in England in 1255, various people from the village speak in monologues about their lives. Pask, for example, has run away from his harsh ruler, the local lord. If he lives in the village for a year and a day, he will become free. Surviving the fierce winter is questionable until he hides in a kennel and is fed dog food by the daughter of the man who cares for the dogs. She, in turn, loves the dogs but is plagued by fleas everywhere in her house - even in the bread.

Twenty-three different young villagers introduce themselves to readers through monologues and dialogues. With well-researched details of life in a medieval village, each young person relates to one or more of the other characters until an intriguing whole, highly original book emerges. Ready to be performed, these voices themselves unite into a masterful performance.
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Format: Hardcover
From the cover illustration on, the tweens and teens who inhabit this fictional village have taken up residence in my imagination, where they continue to flirt and jostle, scrounge out a living, sin and repent and hunger and triumph. I imagine their beatings, their wasted frames and matted hair and share their hard-scrabble existence through 81 brief pages, with smatterings of discreetly placed background notes.

Schlitz wrote this for students at a private school in Baltimore, where she's a librarian and historian. When she offered to write a play that truly depicted life in the Middle Ages, nobody wanted a minor part. She created 21 scenes, all but two of them for a single actor, and most of them in verse. As the characters speak, they offer an unflinching view of their poverty, their superstitions and prejudices and the limited scope of their ambitions.

And, like any kids, they're brightly optimistic, cheerful in their adversity, and full of imagination and daring.

We meet the Lord of the Manor's nephew, who risks his life in a boar hunt; a glassblower's apprentice determined to get it right; a shepherdess struggling to save her "sister" sheep, and many other charming, disarming and (mostly) guileless kids struggling to figure out their place in the local pecking order and how to bridge those awkward years until adulthood.

Even with so many disparate voices, there are no discordant notes. Village life emerges with its rhythms, its simplicity, and narrative threads that weave all the characters into a cohesive whole.
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Format: Hardcover
Although Ms. Schlitz wrote this as a children's play, it is an education and entertainment for adults. Set in the year 1255, it takes us through daily life in the village. The smells, the language, the people, what they wear, what they believe, how they relate to one another and how they accept their various roles unfold before us, bringing us deeper and deeper into village life. At its best, the book is so captivating, readers will have to jerk themselves out of the past and shake off its lingering grasp everytime the book is put aside. We get such an intimate look, told in first person, that the grip of the narrators is amazingly strong. We learn of the abject poverty of many, the splendid cosseting of the few, as we peek in their windows and listen to their voices. Beautifully written, and exhaustively researched, the book is truly a jaunt in a time machine. Ms. Schlitz does not make the mistake of relying too heavily on era-appropriate language, so her speakers are completely understandable to us...but she throws in enough jargon to season the mix to perfection. My suggestion: Read a few pages and close your eyes. The scenes should come to life in the imagination. The accompaniment of intriguing drawings helps animate the prose. All in all, this is a one of a kind read for people of all ages. History buffs, lovers of historical fiction, even people who simply like to eavesdrop on our (historical) neighbors will get a big kick out of the book--while getting a painless but detailed education about the many, many layers medieval life.
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