Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5
Although the title is a bit unwieldy, the 2008 Newbery Medal Winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village, is an excellent read. The monologues contained within it were originally written by school librarian Laura Amy Schlitz to supplement a class unit on the Middle Ages. Every chapter captures the perspective of one person, each with a different trade/job. Some of the stories intersect, giving the reader another perspective on a particular character. Characters represented include a shepherdess, a miller, a local knight’s son who, due to family finances, will become a monk instead, and many others.
One of my favorite sections was written for two people. The voices of Jacob, the Jewish moneylender’s son, and Petronella, the merchant’s daughter, weave together as they start looking beyond religion to the similarities they share. They meet by chance at the stream, where Jacob goes to collect water so that his family can’t be accused of poisoning the village well. Petronella is looking for watercress. When she picks up a stone, Jacob fears the worst. Instead of throwing it at him like past village inhabitants have done, she skips it along the water. He responds in kind, and the two share a brief period of fun and connection.
I adored this book. The author’s descriptions aptly capture the varying world views and concerns of young people serving in many different roles. The text is alternately funny and touching, capturing quotidian life. The illustrations perfectly complement the text. I actually took several semesters on different topics in medieval history, including one on the Crusades and one on the Medieval Church. I claim no special expertise on the area, but I have enough background to appreciate the author’s work at distilling history into fairly accurate monologues while avoiding the trap of romanticizing the period.
I highly recommend this book. It would be great for teaching, as it lets kids get up and act out bits of history. It’s also entertaining enough to lure in people who don’t love history. Additionally, each person’s narrative is short – generally about 3 pages in verse, so it’s easy to work through the book in short bits of time. Although there are no princesses, dragons, or valiant knights, this book is full of the quiet dramas of everyday life.