Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, a project conceived by a Baltimore librarian as a way of teaching about life in medieval times, has won the John Newbery Medal for best children's book.

The Newbery Medal, one of the most distinguished honours in American children's literature, is awarded annually by the American Library Association. The ALA announced the winners of several awards for children's literature on Monday.


Christopher Paul Curtis, shown in his Windsor, Ont. home in 2000, wrote about the Ontario community of Buxton, which was settled by freed slaves in the 1860s. ((Carlos Osorio/Canadian Press) )

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was written by Laura Amy Schlitz, a teacher-librarian at the Park School in Baltimore. It is a series of amusing and often dark lyrical monologues, which her students performed, each playing a different person in the medieval village.

Characters include a young girl who doesn't mind lice, but hates fleas, the miller's son, who describes how his father steals the flour and cuts it with chalk and young Jack, who the other kids call "numbskull" and "lack-a-wit."

"I wanted them to have something to perform, but no one wanted a small part," Schlitz said in a prepared statement.

"So I decided to write monologues instead of one long play, so that for three minutes at least, every child could be a star."

Christopher Paul Curtis, a Windsor, Ont.-based children's author, has won the Coretta Scott King Book Award for his book about a free-born child in an historic black community in southwestern Ontario.

In addition to the award for best African American young adult fiction, Curtis's  Elijah of Buxton was given a Newbery Honor Award.

Set in the 1860s, it tells the story of Elijah, the first free-born child in Buxton, a Canadian community of escaped slaves that was built at the end of the Underground Railroad. Buxton is now an historic site.

Curtis, born in Flint, is also author of Bud, Not Buddy, which won the Newbery Medal, and The Watsons Go to Birmingham.

Ashley Bryan's Let It Shine, which uses paper-cut images to illustrate the words of three favourite spiritual hymns, won the Coretta Scott King award for illustration.

Other 2008 Newbery honour books include The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson.

The Randolph Caldecott award for top picture book went to Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret.


Geraldine McCaughrean won the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature for young adults for The White Darkness. ((Sang Tan/Associated Press))

The 500-page book combines lavish illustrations with a story about a young boy who lives in the Paris Metro and is trying to complete an invention left by his father.

Mo Willems' There Is a Bird in Your Head! won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for "the most distinguished book for beginning readers." 

Four more books are Caldecott honour books:

  • Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Ellen Levine.
  • First the Egg,written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.
  • The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, written and illustrated by Peter Sís.
  • Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, written and illustrated by Mo Willems.

Orson Scott Card, author of Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for "lifetime achievement in writing for young adults."

Geraldine McCaughrean's The White Darkness won the Michael L. Printz Award for "excellence in literature written for young adults."

McCaughrean is the multi-award winning British novelist who wrote Peter Pan in Scarlett, the official sequel to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan that was sanctioned by the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, which owns the rights to Barrie's work.