Newbery Project #6: 2008’s Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

goodmastersWell that was a surprise!

Good Masters, Sweet Ladies!, but Laura Amy Schiltz, is a collection of 15 monologues and two 2-person plays, all set in one imaginary town in England in the Middle Ages. The author is a librarian in a lovely school that lets classes go gang-busters with interdisciplinary units, who wrote these monologues specifically for one class of kids who was studying the time period, because she is the world’s most ambitious librarian.

I never ever would have picked up this book were it not for this project. I have never given the slightest crap about the Middle Ages. And a bunch of plays about the Middle Ages? A bunch of soliloquies meant to be delivered by middle school students? Are you kidding?

But I LOVED this!It probably helps that it was a very quick read. Each piece is only a couple of pages long, meant to be performed in a matter of a few minutes. So all-in-all it took me, like, two hours to read this? It’s quick-quick.

But the characters Schiltz creates are fantastic and remarkably well-painted in the incredibly tiny space she gives herself. Alice, the shepherdess, broke my heart. She was so dedicated and sweet and thoughtful. Even though I only got to hear from her for two pages! I loved how Schiltz played with point-of-view with Piers, the glassblower’s apprentice, and then with the glassblower’s two daughters. And the little asides giving historical context were susinct and interesting and related to the rest of the text in a way that made me care about things like falconry, which boy-how would I not have cared one bit about otherwise.

A lot of people (like me at one point) wondered why on earth such an obtuse, niche book deserved the Newbery, but I was so glad this won. Otherwise I never would have read this and I would have been robbed of the opportunity by my own, boring, anti-Middle-Aged-soliloquy mind.

Would kids like it? There are plenty of certain kids who will loooooove this. You know the ones. Definitely not for everyone, though, and likely inaccessible to the under-10 set.

Are there “funny bits”? Kind of! A couple of the characters definitely have a sense of humor.

Do I understand why it won? Totally. It’s unique and beautifully written and really well-researched (as far as I can tell)! And I hope there are a good number of people like me who picked it up because of the award.

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