Posted by: jeannineatkins | January 24, 2008

What I’m Reading: Newbery Award Winner: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

I get my hair cut by the sweetest guy, a creative type who never complains that I just want wash-n-wear, and who not only cuts his mom’s hair at no charge, but clips for a slew of relatives: when he’s invited for dinner at his sister’s, he’s expected to bring scissors, and nieces and nephews line up. He’s a great uncle who even attends dance recitals that Grandma and Grandpa can’t quite fit into their schedules and brings their flowers as well as his. “Which flowers do you like best?” – “Those ones.” – “Of course, those are the ones from Uncle Scott!”

I don’t know what possessed me to bring up the ALA Awards when I got my hair cut last week, which ended up in a garbled, aborted conversation. I forgot Scott seems to confuse books with toys, which he sort of thinks I cobble together. (to keep things neat, I usually just go under the guise of teacher and don’t bring up the w-for-writing word). Anyway, Newbery and Caldecott winners were on my mind, and I’m giving myself my own little prize for having previously requested Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz just long enough ago that it my it’s-arrived notice came in timely fashion.

The book may be used for performance, through monologues and dialogs, “so that for three minutes, at least, every child can be a star.” That idea and the title gave me the sense that the book would be jolly, kind of a hi-ho fair, but it’s subtler and far richer than the singing sound of the title suggested to me. The book is dense with history, humor, and texture from the language: the bibliography is boggling in its range, and you sure do feel the author knows love, fear, friendship in all its variety, as well as having a great command of period vocabulary and mores. You can, the author suggests, read about the seventeen or so characters in any order you like, but as we go on many voices connect as they would in a village or manor. You get the poignance of a girl who considers herself clumsy and wonders if she’ll ever be loved, then finds a small white flower left for her, as well as the loneliness of “Jack the half-wit” and an overworked older step-sister, the mud slinger There’s great bits of detail – medieval methods for stain removal, notes on herbs and astrology, relics, falconry, and feast days, which get woven in as well as expanded upon in footnotes (Nelly, the sniggler, is someone who catches eels in a particular way). Robert Byrd’s wonderful illustrations — some wide, some not much bigger than a stamp or an illuminated letter — have the busy intriguing look of a medieval tapestry. And like all the Candlewick Press books I’ve seen, the sturdy paper is a pleasure to turn and the design exquisite.

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Responses

  1. I love, love, loved this book. It made me want to recruit a gaggle of kids and start an acting troupe. (And I do not have a dramatic bone in my body!)
    Loree
    http://www.loreeburns.com

  2. Loree, maybe you don’t have a dramatic bone, but you certainly have an obsessive (I mean intrepid)-researcher bone that this tickled. Every word felt thoroughly researched and assessed, yet not a seam of that showed in the final drama. I prefer our century, thank you, but yes, the book tempted me to be there for an afternoon!

  3. Isn’t this book amazing? I’ve read it through several times, and now I actually need to buy it. It’s one I will return to, for sure.

  4. Yes, I’m with you. I returned the book to the library (read it kind of fast, knowing the wait list must be huge) but already I miss those voices. I loved how each part had its own story, and then got larger as they sometimes touched others. And the language!


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