good mastersI’m delighted to review the 2008 Newbery Medal Winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village. Its a wonderful book and I’m very pleased that the Newbery folks have once again chosen a work of historical fiction (by far the most frequent category of the Newbery winners, going all the way back to 1922.

For those who don’t know, the Newbery Medal is the Oscar of children’s books. It’s been awarded annually since 1922 and all but one or two of the winners are still in print. They almost always meet the definition of a “living book,” i.e. a book that children will read, even if they’re not forced to!

This is a book written for children to perform! Schlitz has crafted nineteen monologues and two duologues which allow 21 children from the middle ages to tell their own stories. She uses a variety of literary styles, from couplets to complex rhyme schemes to blank verse and straight prose. Each is very compelling – all the more so when read out loud or better yet performed. The characters include Hugo, the lord’s Nephew; Taggot, the Blacksmith’s daughter; Will, the plowboy; Otho the miller’s son; Pask, the runaway; Piers, the glassblower’s apprentice; and Drogo, the tanner’s apprentice. Interspersed among the dramatic presentations are six background essays on:

The Three-Field System
Medieval Pilgrimage
The Crusades
Jews in Medieval Society
and Towns and Freedom

This method of presenting information works very well to capture children’s attention, and the biographical pieces will make the middle ages (and the details of what life was like) real in a way that no textbook or reference book can.

Laura Amy Schlitz is the librarian at the Park School in Baltimore. She wrote these pieces for the students at the school who were studying the Middle Ages. The children whose stories she has presented are imagined to be between 10 and 15 years old. The book should appeal to students in that age range – and older students as well. Highly recommended. Good Masters! is a hardback, priced at $19.99, and available directly from Greenleaf Press.

– Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press