06 April 2009

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

Voices from a Medieval Village

By Laura Amy Schlitz. Illustrated by Robert Byrd.

Walker Books. Children's Non-Fiction. Paperback rrp $19.95

Guest Reviewer Jo Burnell

Many historical books for Primary School students covering the Medieval era fill their pages with graphics. Although ink and watercolour illustrations are tastefully sprinkled throughout, this book mesmerizes with its words. Twenty-one children from a Village in England describe significant moments in their lives so vividly that pictures are not needed.

Wandering the streets in 1255, I watched the Lord’s daughter cop a glob of mud slung by peasants, held my breath against the putrid stench of the Tannery and hoped that Barbary’s mother would survive childbirth. It was comforting to find the ‘half-wit’ had his own brand of wisdom and challenging to realise girls couldn’t be apprenticed, no matter how gifted they were. Unlikely friendships are struck in every land and every age and this medieval village is no exception.

Each child’s voice is so unique that I had easily imagined their contrasting homes, struggles and prejudices. The attitude of those living in privilege is clear, as are the frustrations of those who don’t.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is ingenious, not only in the depth and breadth of information it imparts, but by the fact that it is packaged as performance pieces. Laura Amy Schlitz knows children. Her monologues and duets allow every child to be the star of the show. This book is ready-made for a one-night performance extravaganza. My only regret is that there aren’t five or six more chapters to accommodate larger class sizes.

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