Thursday, October 28, 2010

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz

Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Pages: 81
Published: 2007 Candlewick Press
Read For: School, Aloud to my kiddos
My Rating: 4 stars

Despite the glowing reviews I'd read of this book, and the shiny gold medal affixed to the front cover, I remained skeptical about how much enjoyment could be found in a book which looked rather dry and unapproachable. The fact that it was written by a school librarian for her students to perform only added to my skepticism: how could a group of 19 monologues and 2 dialogues possibly end up as an entertaining whole?

Whether it is because I read the plays aloud, or because I read it with the intention of teaching/learning about the Middle Ages, I ended up enjoying this collection much more than I thought I would.  In fact, my final thought was: What a perfect way to get an overview of Medieval times.  It is impressive in its uniqueness and wholeness, in its ability to retain humor while teaching, in how easy it is to follow even with the large amount of characters and information.  In these small sketches (and the bits of background information) we learn about religion and class restrictions, government and war, relationships and business.  We get to know people, their behavior, feelings, opinions and activities.

I'm not a huge fan of poetry, but I did enjoy what was included in this book.  It would be great fun to see them performed.  I now understand why, even though the book seemed to be a bit of an oddball choice for the Newbery, it is so valuable.  Not a typical story, to be sure, but exactly what was lacking in Junior Fiction/Nonfiction.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Midwife's Apprentice

Beetle found in a dung heap has but one way to go.
Upward, Onward, only her true heart will show.
Lessons abound for her soul and mind,
and she learns them well, leaving the dung heap behind.

The Midwife's Apprenctice has depth with insight to the medieval era and driving home the fact that if one persists through hard times in life, it is possible to overcome hardships.  Karen Cushman's book is not "cushy".  It is written with matter-of-fact life's difficulties and hard times.  From Brat and Beetle and clear through to birthing, Karen Cushman brings the story to a conclusion of a young woman gaining confidence and a growing sense of inner worth topped off with a compassionate heart for others.

Life's not always kind, but Alyce learns she likes the life around her and assisting with life being brought into the world.

I loved the book, yet maybe not so much for really young readers.  One for the shelf till they can understand the ways of birthing!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

Author: Lois Lenski
Pages: 192
Published: 2005 Harper Trophy (orig. 1945)
Read For: School--Aloud to my kiddos
My Rating: 4 stars

Strawberry Girl won the Newbery Award in 1946, beating Justin Morgan had a Horse by Marguerite Henry.  While I really enjoyed learning about the beginnings of Morgan horses, I can understand why  Lois Lenski's book won the gold.  Even with it's somewhat unrealistic happy ending, Strawberry Girl does a great job depicting life in Florida at the turn of the last century--a time when Florida was still the backwoods frontier land characteristic to the west 30-40 years prior.  The forward begins:
Few people realize how new Florida is, or that, aside from the early Indian and Spanish settlements, Florida has grown up in the course of a single man's lifetime.
Admittedly, one of the reasons that I enjoyed this book was that I love well written dialect.  I love to read it aloud.  It makes me happy.  If dialogue written in dialect is not your thing, you may have a difficult time with this book, because it is simply filled with it (or should I say "plumb filled"?)  I knew I was in for a treat from the first page:
"She's got our markin' brand on her, Pa. A big S inside a circle," said Essie.
The man, Sam Slater, looked up.  "Shore 'nough, so she has."
"She's headin' right for them orange trees, Pa," said Essie.
"Them new leaves taste mighty good, I reckon," replied her father.  "She's hungry, pore thing!"
A clatter of dishes sounded from within the house and a baby began to cry.
"You'd be pore, too, did you never git nothin' to eat," said the unseen Mrs. Slater.
There was no answer.
 Most of the book is consumed with a feud between neighbors: the Slaters and the Boyers.  The Boyers are new to the area, and Slaters aren't too happy about that.  Despite the sweet illustrations throughout, and the fact that it was written over 60 years ago, the book is not the innocent story you might expect.  There is drinking and gambling, fighting and arguing; there are hateful words and actions.  None of this behavior is condoned, and it is mostly isolated to interactions with the Slater family.  Although those interactions make up the majority of the book, you aren't left with a feeling of hopelessness.  Rather the opposite--it's never too late to make a change for the better.  Thumbs up from my kiddos.  We found it to be engaging and fun.

(cross posted at Fingers & Prose)