Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz

I remember hearing about this book on public radio soon after it received the Newbery Award, and thought it sounded like a unique and fun idea for a book. I never got around to finding a copy, though, but when I visited my library's Newbery Award section for this project I found several copies proudly displayed on the top shelf. And with good reason; it's a beautiful book!

The book is designed to be a class project of sorts; there are twenty-three short essays or poems meant to be read/recited/performed, each from the point of view of a child in a medieval village. The collective performance, then, will give the audience a little view of the life of the falconer's son, the miller's son, the "half-wit" boy, the lord's daughter, and so on. Religion and class differences are explored, and you leave with the realization that while the details of life have changed a lot, there are also a lot of ways in which nothing has changed at all.

As a kid, I would have liked that you saw village life from the children's point of view. I would also have enjoyed the sidebars explaining parts of medieval culture that wouldn't be familiar to a modern child. They were frequent enough to help with context, but the text was not so full of asterisks that it became distracting. I would have loved it if my class had taken on the performance of this book as a project! I also think that two kids with time and inclination could have a good time with it, reading back and forth (or occasionally together - there are a couple of duet pieces). You could also read it with one or both of your parents. The entries are written in varying styles of poetry and occasionally prose, which was fun for me to read as an adult, and would make a good teaching point in a classroom setting. My only real issue with this book, in the end, is that it's not very friendly to the silent reader, a bit like reading a play on your own. It would be easy to be drawn to it, with its gorgeous format and interesting subject matter, and then find that it's not really meant for you to read to yourself.

I can definitely see the appeal of the book as a class activity, and why teachers would want to use it. My biggest regret, reading this now, is that it wasn't available for my own 5th grade class in 1990! I give it a 10 for a class or team project idea, and a 7 for reading alone.

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