Laura Amy Schlitz was trying to cheer herself up in the early morning hours of January 14 when her phone rang. The longtime Park School librarian had already concluded that her children's book, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village, hadn't even won a Newbery Medal honorable mention.
So she was more than a little bewildered when an unfamiliar voice told her she had won the grand prize. The Newbery is considered the Academy Award of children's literature and is one of several awards given by the Association for Library Service to Children. "I don't exactly remember what happened," Schlitz laughs. "I couldn't believe it."
"They sounded so friendly," she recounts of the callers. "At some point, they even cheered. I don't even remember what I said. When somebody puts the most extraordinary gift in your lap, you don't know what to say."
Next came a flurry of congratulatory phone calls, press interviews (including one on NBC's Today show), and celebrations with her Park School elementary students.
All this for a book she thought had little chance of winning. "People walk into a bookstore and ask, 'Do you have a mystery?' 'Do you have a book on polar bears?' No one says, 'Do you have a book about medieval life in the voice of children in the form of monologues?'"
Set in the year 1255, her book—a series of illustrated monologues in the voices of 22 medieval children—didn't start out as a book at all, but rather a colorful addition to the school's interdisciplinary fifth-grade curriculum on the Middle Ages. Since 1997, her students have performed the monologues—which feature giggle-worthy day-to-day details of medieval life (maggots and lice), as well as more serious issues (hunger and serfdom)—and in 2000, Schlitz decided to try to publish the monologues as a single tome.
While it will take a few months for Schlitz's publisher, Candlewick Press, to tally up her sales figures, she's not thinking that far ahead. As for celebration, the low-key Loch Hill resident finally rewarded herself with a little something: red gloves.
"I was feeling decidedly festive," she says of her recent purchase. "I don't think I've paid that much for gloves before."