Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village
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Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village

4.5 12
by Laura Amy Schlitz, Robert Byrd

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Step back to an English village in 1255, where life plays out in dramatic vignettes illuminating twenty-two unforgettable characters.

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


Step back to an English village in 1255, where life plays out in dramatic vignettes illuminating twenty-two unforgettable characters.

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 the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

John Schwartz
For the young people of Laura Amy Schlitz's new book, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village, life tends to be nasty, brutish and short. But young readers are also likely to find it engaging, affecting and occasionally giggle-worthy…Schlitz is a talented storyteller. Her language is forceful, and learning slips in on the sly.
—The New York Times
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
Children's Literature - Debbie Levy
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)
From the Publisher

Winner of the 2008 Newbery Medal

"Brilliant in every way." – Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A vivid, convincing portrait of medieval adolescence." – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)

"Bolstered by lively asides and unobtrusive notes, and illuminated by Byrd's stunningly atmospheric watercolors, [the monologues] bring to life a prototypical English village in 1255." – Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Schlitz gives teachers a refreshing option for enhancing the study of the European Middle Ages: here are seventeen monologues and two dialogues that collectively create a portrait of life on an English manor in 1255." – The Horn Book

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Where's Waldo? Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.35(w) x 10.48(h) x 0.53(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt


I was born lucky. Nay, not born lucky, as you shall hear - but lucky soon after and ever after. My father and mother were starving poor, and dreaded another mouth to feed. When my father saw I was a girl-child, he took me up to drown in a bucket of water.

But here's the lucky part - and 'tis pure sooth. I didn't drown, babe though I was. I took hold with my wee fingers and held to the side of the bucket (1). And my mother wept, and my father's heart went soft, and he could no more drown me than himself-and they named me Nelly, for Queen Eleanor (2).

And their luck changed. First my uncle died of the scurvy and we got his pigs. Then the nuns at the abbey hired us to catch eels - and we've been sniggling ever since (3).

Do you see these eels? Fresher than the day they were born - and fat as priests. I know where their burrows are, and I know what they like for bait. And as for frogs - I've been catching frogs since I was two years old; there's not a frog in Christendom jumps fast enough to get away from me - and I can swim as fast as any boy - and better than Drogo, the tanner!

Do you know Drogo, the tanner's apprentice? I can't point him out to you, because he'd see me. He's always staring at me. Many's the time I've seen him peel off his hose to show me his legs - as if every frog I've ever put into a pie didn't have better legs than his!

We had a brawl last summer. I said 'twas the fault of the tanners that the river stank, and he said 'twas the fishmongers. Which is pure folly: 'tis surely God's will that fish should rot in the water, but the beasts should rot on the land. I put out my tongue, and by Saint Peter (4), he pushed me right off the wharf into the water. And then, poor fool, he thought I would drown - I, who couldn't drown when I was three hours old! He splashed in after me, and I dove down deep and grabbed his foot - and I ducked him three times, and serve him right. Only then I had to drag him out of the water - because it turns out, he can't swim! So I suppose you could say I saved his life.

He's never forgotten it. He watches me all the time - and shows off his legs. But I don't speak to him; I want nothing to do with him and his legs. I pretend I don't even know his name - and every day I walk past the tannery, just so he can see me not looking his way.

1. Newborn babies have strong fngers and an instinct to hold on. The story about a baby catching hold of the bucket in which her father meant to drown her is true. The original plucky newborn was a woman named Liafburga, who lived around 700 a.d. (G.G. Coulton, The Medieval Village)

2 Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) was a legend in her own time.

3 A sniggler is a person who catches eels by dangling bait into their holes in the riverbank. Frogs and eels were desirable sources of protein during the Middle Ages.

4 Saint Peter was the patron saint of fishermen.


I don't mind the stink-
I grew up with it, being the son of a butcher.
Dead things stink; that's the will of God,
and tanners (1) make good money.

I don't mind the work-
digging the pits grinding the oak bark smearing the hides with dung.
Work is work. I like bread in my belly and ale in my cup.

I do mind the jeering of Nelly the sniggler-
her tongue could scrape the hair off a hide!
And I mind the townsmen nattering on,
saying we foul the waters (2).
By Saint Bartholomew (3), think'st thou a man can make leather without filth?
Alum, lime, oak galls, urine,
ashes, tallow, and stale beer-
these are the tools of my trade.

Would you warm your hands in leather gloves?
Saddle or bridle your horse?
Do you dance to the sound of the bagpipes,
or lace up the cords of your armor?
What about the bellows, heating the forge?
It's leather - stinking leather!

Do you want good shoes or don't you?

So be it.
Now, let me get on with my scraper and dung.
You hold your nostrils - and hold your tongue.

1 A tanner is someone who cures animal hides to make leather.

2 Polluted waters are not just a contemporary problem. Almost everything that tanners used was poisonous. People like fishermen and brewers, who needed the rivers to be clean, were always at war with the tanners.

3 Saint Bartholomew, who was skinned to death, was the patron saint of tanners. The logic of this is macabre, but not unique. Saint Sebastian, who was shot full of arrows, is the patron saint of archers; Saint Laurence, who was roasted alive, is the patron saint of cooks. We won't even talk about what happened to Saint Erasmus - it's too disgusting.


GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrations by Robert Byrd. Text copyright (c) 2007 by Laura Amy Schlitz. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

Meet the Author

Laura Amy Schlitz is the author of THE HERO SCHLIEMANN: THE DREAMER WHO DUG FOR TROY and A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR. She wrote the pieces in GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! for students at the Park School in Baltimore, where she works as a librarian. She has also worked as a storyteller, a costumer, an actress, and a playwright; her plays for young people have been produced in theaters all over the country. Laura Amy Schlitz lives in Baltimore.

Robert Byrd teaches children’s book illustration at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He is the author-illustrator of many books, including LEONARDO: BEAUTIFUL DREAMER; FINN MACCOUL AND HIS FEARLESS WIFE; and THE HERO AND THE MINOTAUR. He also illustrated Laura Amy Schlitz’s first book for children, THE HERO SCHLIEMANN, about the life of a nineteenth-century amateur archaeologist. Robert Byrd lives in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
ChatWithVera 11 months ago
I didn't know what to expect from Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village since it is a children's book. I knew from the cover art that it wasn't necessarily a sweet little small child's fairy tale type of book, but just what was it? I am completely taken with the beauty of this publication, the verbal artistry of the author, Laura Amy Schlitz, and the way the various "voices" from the village speak about themselves, their lives, and the times in which they live. The side notes help clarify terms or words so the reader can get a fuller comprehension of what they are talking about in each voicing. Oh! I had such fun reading each of these character's stories told in the first person as monologues or two-part stories. This was simply something I wish I had had the opportunity to do when my children were growing up. (Oh, where in the world was this book?) And then after some of the villagers told their tale, there would be a page or two of easy-to-understand history of that particular part of Medieval life. For example: Across a stream a Jew and a Christian merchant's daughter gaze at each other. Their emotions emanating from fear and hatred of Christians toward Jews at the time were overcome by a few moments of light, youthful playfulness - stone skipping over the water. Following this was the history of Jewish persecution during the period. A touching scene and a touching part of history. Another bit of educational fun was the glimpse into the son of the Knight. His current plight and station in life after his father, the Knight, had used all his money and lands to outfit himself to participate in the Crusades. Following this was an interesting and realistic history of the Crusades. I love the illustrations of Robert Byrd and they seem to really fit the Medieval times harking back to old illustrations and art that have survived the centuries. The two-page spread at the beginning shows the entire village with the stream meandering through it. Of note is every character in Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is featured (name is by their figure). The cover is filled with colorful villagers mingling about. It is easy to see why the book has been awarded the the Gold John Newbery Medal. Entertainment, education, and pure enjoyment pervade the book from beginning to end. DISCLOSURE: I was provided a complimentary copy by Candlewick Press to facilitate this review. Opinions are my own, alone. I was not compensated for this review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A series of short, realistic stories directly from fictional children of the Middle Ages, this book illuminates what day to day life must have been like for a wide range of social classes. Some are stories that stand alone; others intersect with each other, which is fun. They are told in a variety of styles, and all are written so that modern children can read them aloud. If I were still teaching middle school social studies (or language arts) I would difinitely be using this book.
JMaldovan More than 1 year ago
The book was so intriguing I had a hard time putting it down. The stories the children told in the book put me right into medieval times. The pictures enhanced the images in my mind that were brought to life by the many monologues of the characters. I do think that the book would be excellent for enticing children in learning about the historical era in a way that gives them perspectives from the points of views of children their own ages. I found the side information added by the author to be useful at times, but slightly distracting The side notes could produce excellent topics for research. Overall the book is very enjoyable and educational.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Lilly_Tagloff More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful collection of short plays set in the Middle Ages. The characters range from the rich to the poor, the miserable to the content, the naughty to the nice.

Each of the 23 characters, between the ages of 10 and 15, has a few pages of monologue where they tell their own personal story of what it is like to live in a medieval English village. The author gives notes of explanation in the margins making it easy to learn, understand, and enjoy the historical content. And the color illustrations help bring each character to life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was interesting to learn the history of the time, and tells of the daily challenges and traumas - sometimes too much information. Beautiful type and illustrations and great concept for teaching history. I expected more, a finale perhaps.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Laura Schlitz has brought the Middle Ages to life--fleas and all!--so entertainingly that children won't even realize how much they are learning. She has created fully realized characters who talk about their lives--movingly, amusingly, frequently both--in beautiful language. These monologues and dialogues are easy and fun for children to read and perform. There are also short, informative and entertaining essays on aspects of medieval life, including falconry, Judaism, and the Crusades. Robert Byrd's lively illustrations add to the enchantment.