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
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
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 1255but 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 charactersThomas, the doctor's son; Mogg, the villein's daughter; Lowdy, the varlet's child; Nelly, the sniggler; and eighteen moremesmerize 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 bornand 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.
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)
Read an Excerpt
NELLY THE SNIGGLER
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.
DROGO, THE TANNER'S APPRENTICE
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.