Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village

by Laura Amy Schlitz

Other authorsRobert Byrd (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 2007



Local notes

940.1 Sch (c.1)



Candlewick Press (2007), Edition: 4th Print, 96 pages


A collection of short one-person plays featuring characters, between ten and fifteen years old, who live in or near a thirteenth-century English manor.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

96 p.; 7.5 inches


0763615781 / 9780763615789





Media reviews

Publishers Weekly
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 (Leonard, 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. (Aug.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Children's Literature
Good Readers! Sweet Librarians! This delightfully unusual collection of monologues, dialogues, and poems presents the voices of various inhabitants of an English village in 1255—but this description does not begin to convey the life, humor, empathy, and drama that imbue every page. Not so slowly, but oh so surely (and slyly), the characters—Thomas, the doctor's son; Mogg, the villein's daughter; Lowdy, the varlet's child; Nelly, the sniggler; and eighteen more—mesmerize the reader with their stories and observations. Even Schlitz's marginal notes, in which she explains unfamiliar words and imparts fascinating tidbits, are written with panache. (A varlet, by the way, means scoundrel today, but was a word used for a man who looked after animals in the Middle Ages; a sniggler is a person who fished for eels by dangling bait in their riverbank holes.) Schlitz packs more plot in these interconnected vignettes than can be found in many novels. Sometimes she does it with rhyme that is sophisticated yet accessible (Thomas the doctor's son begins, "My father is the noble lord's physician/And I am bound to carry on tradition"). Sometimes she does it in prose (Nelly the sniggler describes eels as "Fresher than the day they were born—and fat as priests"). She presents, in tandem, the musings of Jacob ben Salomon, the moneylender's son, and Petronella, the merchant's daughter, as they breach the divide between Jews and Christians by skipping stones with each other across a stream. The vignettes are supplemented by several two-page sidebars on issues such as Jews in medieval society, falconry, medieval pilgrims, and more. Byrd's colorful pen-and-ink drawingsreflect the style of a thirteenth-century illuminated manuscript, greatly enhancing the reader's experience of this remarkable book.
Kirkus Reviews
Schlitz takes the breath away with unabashed excellence in every direction. This wonderfully designed and produced volume contains 17 monologues for readers ten to 15, each in the voice of a character from an English town in 1255. Some are in verse; some in prose; all are interconnected. The language is rich, sinewy, romantic and plainspoken. Readers will immediately cotton to Taggot, the blacksmith's daughter, who is big and strong and plain, and is undone by the sprig of hawthorn a lord's nephew leaves on her anvil. Isobel the lord's daughter doesn't understand why the peasants throw mud at her silks, but readers will: Barbary, exhausted from caring for the baby twins with her stepmother who is pregnant again, flings the muck in frustration. Two sisters speak in tandem, as do a Jew and a Christian, who marvel in parallel at their joy in skipping stones on water. Double-page spreads called "A little background" offer lively information about falconry, The Crusades, pilgrimages and the like. Byrd's watercolor-and-ink pictures add lovely texture and evoke medieval illustration without aping it. Brilliant in every way. (foreword, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-15)

User reviews

LibraryThing member
Winner of the 2008 Newbery Medal, “Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!” is a middle-grade collection of 21 short monologues and dialogues -- poetry and prose -- written in the voices of kids in and around a 1255 English manor.

Each child is tagged with a role in the manor’s society or trades (for example, the Lord’s daughter, the miller’s son), but each also illustrates what it’s like to conquer a fear, or lose a parent, or be an outcast, or be heavy with responsibility ... or feel the first stirrings of romance. The stories pulse with tension and emotion, and build beautifully as the various characters sometimes echo one other, sometimes contrast. Robert Byrd's illustrations enhance the narratives, and the author uses footnotes and intermissions to supply bits of medieval history; she also provides a 54-item bibliography.

A terrific book, highly recommended. I read a library copy but wish I’d bought it so I could re-read these tender vignettes.
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LibraryThing member elenaazad
"Good Master! Sweet Ladies!" by Laura Amy Schlitz is a collection of monologues that are short verse portraits of inhabitants you'd find in a typical medieval English village. There's Taggot, the blacksmith's daughter who laments the fact that she will likely never marry, and Simon, the knight's son, who dreams of the crusades. And many more.

As with The Royal Diaries series, this brings history to the reader by combining both the very familiar and the very foreign; the children in this drama experience some of the same emotions as preteens/teens today, but the context in which they do so is drastically different. However, this work will appeal more to middle schoolers who already have an interest in (medieval) history or theater. It is hard to imagine a reluctant reader picking up this book and getting through it.

These monologues seem like they would be more fun to performed, as they were meant to be. Schlitz is a both a librarian and theater director/instruction at the school at which she works. In the Foreword she explains that she wrote the "Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!" as a series of monologues because she wanted each of her students to be a part of a production.
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LibraryThing member mccooln
This book has a very specific niche. I can see it being useful in a middle school class studying medieval times and needing a presentation project. The monologues provided are historically accurate, but the content does not lend itself to younger (elementary) audiences. I do like that the monologues of the members of this imaginary village allude to the other characters in the book. However, I did not enjoy reading it overall. Medieval times were hard times.… (more)
LibraryThing member klburnside
This book is a collection of monologues (and a few dialogues) written by a librarian for fifth grade students to perform and learn about life in a medieval village. It was the winner of the 2008 Newbery award. Each monologue is told from the point of view of a different child in the village, mostly written in verse.

I haven't read any of the other Newbery winners written in verse yet, but I hope they are better than this. If something is written in verse, it has to be done well or it drives me crazy. If there is rhythm or rhyme, it needs to be consistent. If there is no rhythm or rhyme, I feel there needs to be a reason for the stanzas to be formatted as they are. The metrical structure, rhyme, and formatting of this book were so awkward, it was hard to appreciate anything else about the book. Since there was rarely rhyme or rhythm in these verses, it would have made more sense to have them all in prose.… (more)
LibraryThing member Whisper1
In this 2008 Newbery Medal winner, the author takes the reader to a Medieval Village.

Each poem is a story told by the daughter, son, nephew or apprentice of a particular trades person.

While it is creative and the illustrations are very artistic, I personally cannot recommend this book.

It falls flat, smack face down in one of the muddy roads that meander throughout the village. The stories jump around higher and faster than the fleas and lice described as a part of the every day life in 1255. I kept waiting for at least one of the tales to soar like the falcon, but alas, as unglamorous as the Crusades, it felt like a pilgrimage to no where.
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LibraryThing member abbylibrarian
A collection of monologues written for her students at the Park School in Baltimore, this volume gives us a glimpse into life in a medieval village. Schlitz has written monologues for children in the village including the lord's daughter, the miller's son, the beggar, the Jew... Footnotes help explain some of the language and medieval references and every so often she inserts some background information (about, for example, the status of Jews in medieval society or the Crusades). I read each of the monologues out loud (which is what they were written for, after all) and found them delightful. I could picture school kids dressing up in costumes and performing this collection for an audience of rapt parents. This isn't a book to be rushed through, but one to be savored and listened to.… (more)
LibraryThing member MaowangVater
A series of monologues and two dialogs introduce the lives of twenty-three children near an English manor in 1255. There are interspersed with short one-page essays on crop rotation, pilgrimage, the Crusades, Jews in medieval society and the legal status of runaways. The plays were written by a school librarian to teach young students about life in the middle ages. They were written so that everyone in the class could be a star “for three minutes at least.”

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was awarded the John Newbery Medal in 2008 for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children by the Association of Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
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LibraryThing member LibrarysCat
I cannot think of the words to say how much I loved this latest Newbery winner. Good Masters, Sweet Ladies: Voices from a Medieval Village is a wonderful adventure in medieval history. Written by Laura Amy Schlitz to be performed by middle school students with each having a substantial role, the author introduces a variety of young people who might have lived in a village in England in 1255. Interspersed between the short vignettes provided for each villager, the author includes brief historical notes and longer explanations of specific topics which might be of interest to the reader. What a successful plunge into the publishing world by a fellow librarian.

I cannot leave you with my favorite quote because I just don’t think I have one. You need to read the book (I read it in only about 30 minutes) and see what you think. I should also add that I really liked the illustrations by Robert Byrd as well. Another quality which is very nice in a children’s book is a full bibliography. I loved it!!
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LibraryThing member sagrundman
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is a compilation of stories about children in the middle ages. Each child has some type of profession (or the child of) and they tell a story or a story is told about their lives. The story is either written in poem or short story form and are all fairly easy to read. The author does use terms from the time period, but if the term isn't something a modern child would understand, there is a footnote (or sidenote) explaining the term in ways a modern child can understand. Interspersed between the stories are non-fiction pieces that help to explain an aspect of life in an English village in 1255. The book would be a good source for an elementary or middle school teacher who had to teach about Medieval life and the different social classes. All the stories/poems are short and interesting as are the historical background sections. The illustrator tried to make his art style similar to wood carvings and painting from the time period, but some modern techniques are in there too. The pictures help to show some of the aspects of life visually. I would recommend this for ages 9 and up.… (more)
LibraryThing member 1morechapter
The 2008 Newbery award winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, is by Laura Amy Schlitz. The book is subtitled Voices from a Medieval Village, and contains points of view from the blacksmith’s daughter, the tanner’s son, the falconer’s son, the glassblower’s daughters, among many others. I didn’t like it at all at first, but by the time I got to the story about a shepherdess singing to a grieving ewe, I was enjoying it. The illustrations by Robert Byrd were excellent.… (more)
LibraryThing member mattkirschner
A very interesting read, but it requires a different set of eyes. I went in with the mindset of "I'm going to read a fiction book" and started off despising this book. Once I finally started reading it as a performance, a play and account of characters in Shakespearean times, I began to love it. The portions in which two players performed a tandem soliloquy were the highlights for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member momccarthy
Schlitz has done such a remarkable job of sharing sound research in a format that will "hook" our 6th graders studying about this time period. The young persons living in this medieval village became quite real to me as I read the book... particularly fond of the blacksmith's daughter, the honesty of the doctor's child, the tie-ins from one monologue to another.… (more)
LibraryThing member emgriff
23 young characters from all walks of medieval English life introduce themselves in this collection of monologues. The stories, many of which intertwine, are each told in the character's distinctive voice - some in prose and some in verse. Illustrations inspired by illuminated manuscripts of the time enhance the feeling of the text. Very readable footnotes and short essays provide information on topics such as the farming systems of the time, pilgrimages and falconry. Topics such as the Crusades and treatment of the Jews during this time period are also addressed frankly. Designed as a play in which no one would have to have a bit part, this collection could be enjoyed silently, but is particularly well suited to be performed aloud. I do wonder about the audience for this book, as the format suggests elementary school, but the language and subject matter might be beyond the frame of reference of many in this age group. I would highly recommend this book as part of a larger unit Medieval life, however, and would likely include it in a collection for upper elementary students (and perhaps middle school) students.… (more)
LibraryThing member MissTeacher
This collection of monologues for young readers offers a personal insight to the differing lives on a medieval English manor. The various viewpoints and honest accounts are both interesting and educational, but the book lacks cohension in the story. I would like to have seen the different monologues interweave more, and each child have an effect on another's life. The possibilties for expanding the monologues and allowing interaction betwenn the characters are endless, and the format begs for such. These were written for the young, and should permit more playfulness and discovery within their words.… (more)
LibraryThing member adharrington
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village is a collection of seventeen short plays set in the Middle Ages. These plays were written by a librarian for her students. They are beautifully written and the author also includes background information about the time period.

I've always been fascinated by the Middle Ages. I am currently working on a paper about Medieval Drama so this book caught my attention immediately when I was looking at Newbery Award Winners.

In the classroom this would be great for a history or literature course. The beautiful language is easily read and would be great drama for young readers. The historical information included would be a great addition to a history lesson.
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LibraryThing member vortega
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is the perfect book for 7th grade English and History teachers to use to collaborate on interdisciplinary lessons that students will find hard to resist. Laura Amy Schlitz, author, poet, dramatist and history enthusiast, sets nineteen monologues and two, two voice dialogues, in England, in a Medieval village in the year 1255. Twenty-two characters, with ages ranging from 10 through 15, deliver brilliantly written and historically accurate personal accounts of their lives, work, social customs and beliefs. The illustrations by Robert Byrd, are beautifully rendered in ink and watercolor and add to the authenticity of this dramatic tour-de-force.… (more)
LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
One thing I've enjoyed about reading Newberry Medal winners is the variety of the selections. This book of monologues, written to be performed by children, is an engaging look at life in the Middle Ages. Taken together they give the reader a glimpse of life in a world completely different from modern United States. There's a fair dose of humor, which contrasts nicely with the realities of lice and fleas, hunger and oppression.… (more)
LibraryThing member bell7
This is a collection of monologues (and a handful of dialogues) of different characters in a medieval village. Some of them know each other, some speak poetically and others in prose, but all give you a multifaceted look at life in the 13th century. Beginning with the lord's nephew and ending with a beggar, each monologue is individual, gives a slightly different perspective, and makes each character feel real and likable.

This was a quick read that I enjoyed pretty well. It was different, with its mix of nonfiction notes and made-up characters. Some historical notes are interspersed, giving the book a little bit of a teacherly feel. I can see why the book won a Newbery, though I think that it might get more notice from adults than kids as a possible "teaching tool."
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LibraryThing member hailelib
A beautiful book that deserves its Newbery Medal (2008). Strictly speaking it is literature as in a collection of monologues and dialogues for young teens but a great deal of medieval history is incorporated into the text and illustrations so I am counting it. Recommended.
LibraryThing member sriches
Maidens, monks, and millers’ sons — in these pages, readers will meet them all. There’s Hugo, the lord’s nephew, forced to prove his manhood by hunting a wild boar; sharp-tongued Nelly, who supports her family by selling live eels; and the peasant’s daughter, Mogg, who gets a clever lesson in how to save a cow from a greedy landlord. There’s also mud-slinging Barbary (and her noble victim); Jack, the compassionate half-wit; Alice, the singing shepherdess; and many more. With a deep appreciation for the period and a grand affection for both characters and audience, Laura Amy Schlitz creates twenty-two riveting portraits and linguistic gems equally suited to silent reading or performance. Illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings by Robert Byrd — inspired by the Munich-Nuremberg manuscript, an illuminated poem from thirteenth-century Germany — this witty, historically accurate, and utterly human collection forms an exquisite bridge to the people and places of medieval England. From Goodreads… (more)
LibraryThing member karinaw
Personal Response:
I feel that this is an excellent book for learning about a whole range of people in the middle ages. It also is a great teaching tool for the classroom. It allows children to participate actively in learning by acting out the various characters. This book is written using medieval vocabulary with footnotes to explain the references. It is very educational and also provides background segments aside from the verse.

Curriculum Connections:
Identify the different types of poetry and verse used.
Have each student further research a person and what their lives might be like as they become an adult.
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LibraryThing member yoshio
Presents information about medieval life in a palatable, easy-to-read format that is a pleasure to read. Much better than reading a conventional history book.
LibraryThing member Heidi001
This is a book that I had looked forward to reading because it was written by a school librarian who gradually conceived of this book over years of reading and making up stories for the kids who came into the library. It is a compilation of monologues set in an English Village in 1255 that is a delight to read. The author, true to the educator she is, provides pages of historically accurate background information for the reader who is less than knowledgeable about the customs, language and class distinctions of medieval England. Even though this book is illustrated and brief, I think that it might be tedious reading for a middle school age reader to read alone. It would be best used as an educational aid, and many content areas would be served well. I loved the characters idiosyncrasies and delighted in down and dirty reality of everyday life during that time that the author conjured up so well. I believe those things would be equally delightful to middle school students too.… (more)
LibraryThing member debnance
This year’s Newbery winner. Loved it. The book was written in the form of short monologues, with characters representing many of the traditional people of medieval times. The author uses the sidebars to explain here and there words and expressions that children might not know. She also interjects a few pages of informational text to explain some of the key features of the times.Loved it!… (more)
LibraryThing member JudiMoreillon
Written for a group of middle school students with both verse and expository passages, these Canterbury Tales for ‘tweens beg to be read aloud! Schlitz’s characters, from all social strata, exude personality as well as reflect their station in medieval society. Chaucer would approve!

The book opens with Byrd’s illustration of the Medieval manor and places the characters in the scene. Byrd’s illustrations strengthen the setting and add humor to the story.… (more)




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