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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Voices from a Medieval Village

I try to read all of the Newbery Medal-winning books. I recently finished reading the 2008 winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz.

I suppose that most or all Newbery Award-winning books are unique, not sticking to some tried and true formula. That is true of this one. Schlitz, a school librarian, decided to help fifth graders learn about history by having them act the part of inhabitants of an English village of 1255. The book, therefore, is not divided into chapters, but into a number of monologues, two dialogues, and a few explanatory sections, each from two to five pages in length. (There are quite a few marginal footnotes, which allow Schlitz to use words that would have been used, that that fifth graders -- or, in some cases -- I wouldn't have been familiar with, such as sniggler -- a person who catches eels.) Each one of the monologues or dialogues was written to be read aloud. No character appears more than once, although some are referred to in subsequent readings. None of the characters are meant to be adult, although some of them are close. The ages seem to vary.

Schlitz seems to have done a good job of portraying the place and time she wrote about. For one thing, the role of the Catholic Church is prominent, as it was at the time. Time of year and time of day, as set by the Church, are used. One character is on a pilgrimage, and Schlitz explains something of what pilgrimage meant, and what it must have been like, in this setting. One character is going to become a priest, because his family has lost its fortune, but status can be kept by becoming a priest.

Most of the characters are grindingly poor, and Schlitz tells us something about dirt, insect pests, and disease. She also portrays the role of women, realistically, I think.

A solid read, although probably challenging for a fifth-grader, unless she is well-motivated. The illustrations, by Robert Byrd, are good, and look like they might have come from illuminated manuscripts of the time.

Thanks for reading.


FancyHorse said...

That sounds like an interesting book. I found a Newbery book in a thrift store recently: Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis.
Sorry, my journal entry wasn't very informative. I usually try to do better than that.

Martin LaBar said...

It was interesting. Not much of a plot, although there was one there.

Don't worry about your journal entry!

Thanks, FancyHorse.