Saturday, February 9, 2008

Adam of the Road

Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray, is a classic road trip story. It's funny, because I'm reading Huckleberry Finn for my book club right now, and there are a lot of similarities - companions lost and found, unscrupulous wayfarers, country vs. city comparisons, and genuinely nice families that want to take a young boy in and teach him their craft and dress him appropriately. Adam is a lot less cynical than Huck, though, and blessed with a caring father, even if he loses him for part of the book.

Although I rather liked Adam of the Road, particularly for its descriptions of medieval life and the English countryside (and isn't it interesting that this is the second Newbery winner set in the 1200's in England? see Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! for a very different view of 13th century life), I have to disagree with Linda, who said that "the book contains plenty of action to keep a child interested" in her review here.

There have been some suspenseful Newbery winners that I could hardly put down (like Holes and Bud, Not Buddy). This wasn't one of them.

Adam of the Road reminded me a more of the 1924 winner, The Dark Frigate, which included an amble through the English countryside (along with the scenes set on a pirate ship). There is a plot, but I think it is pretty secondary to the scenery and the history. Which may make this a bit challenging for some kids to read (I can already hear my 11 year old son saying "It's soooo booo-ring").

I found it a relaxing and interesting read, but I'm not sure that is really enough for this award, if you know what I mean. Maybe there weren't many other choices for the Newbery Committee in 1943? The only Honors books for this year were Eleanor Estes' The Middle Moffat and Have You Seen Tom Thumb? by Mabel Leigh Hunt, which I haven't read but don't sound riveting, either. Maybe WWII put a crimp in children's book publishing.

Here's a couple examples of the descriptions that made the book worthwhile for me, anyway.
There was immense bustle and excitement within the walls of de Lisle House when the lord and lady and all their followers got there. The squires and maids went running about with perfumed and steaming baths, the grooms and stablemen were busy watering and bedding the horses; the carters unloaded the goods they had carried over so many miles. One cart had panes of glass in it, packed with the greatest care in layers of straw. Not many people had glass in their windows, but Sir Edmund did, beautiful glass, some of it painted, and he carried it from one of his houses to another as he traveled about (p. 65-66).
On the Great Hall of de Lisle house:
In the daytime the hall was the center of all the life of the household. On the dais at one end was the high table where the de Lisles and their guests ate, with their falcons sitting on perches on the wall behind and their dogs lying on the floor at their feet. In the center of the hall was the hearth, where on cold days a fire was lighted.

...At night, on the benches against against the wall, or even in the rushes on the floor, slept some of the men of the household. The porter slept there, for instance, and the clerk of the kitchen, an archer or two, and Roger and Adam and Nick (p. 86).
In short, if your kids aren't addicted to action in their books, then they might enjoy this. Or if they really like stories with faithful dogs (Nick is a beautifully described red spaniel whom is central to the plot), it might be a good pick. Also, Nick doesn't die, so you don't have to worry about one of those Old Yeller experiences when reading Adam of the Road. I've decided that happily ever after is definitely better when it comes to dogs in children's literature - but maybe that's a topic for another post.

1 comment:

Framed said...

Great review. This book sounds like a nice relaxing read which is probably something they needed during WWII. Plenty of suspense in the real world.