Saturday, September 15, 2007

Adam of the Road (1943)

The 1943 winner of the Newbery Medal, Adam of the Road, a 23-chapter book by Elizabeth Janet Gray (Elizabeth Gray Vining), is a juvenile romp down primitive roads surrounding London during the Middle Age years of 1294-1295. The title character, Adam Quartermayne, is the eleven-year-old son of a minstrel. Adam starts his adventure with a harp, and ends it with a bagpipe. He also has a steady repertoire of songs, including at least one he wrote himself. And Adam has the road.

According to Adam's father, Roger, the road is home to a minstrel:
"A road is a kind of holy thing," Roger went on. "That's why it's a good work to keep a road in repair, like giving alms to the poor or tending the sick. It's open to the sun and wind and rain. It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it's home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle."
I found this particularly interesting because my first big writing project, my seventh grade term paper, was about minstrels. I wish I'd known about this novel back then.

There's some beautiful description in this book:
"Between the high, windswept fields the road stretched muddy and rutted toward bare purple woods. Here and there a swollen brook flooding the road reflected the cold cherry-colored light of the setting sun."
The book contains plenty of action to keep a child interested as Adam leaves his school to follow his father down the road to harmonious minstrelsy. His adorable red setter, Nick, goes along.

Things happen in a fairly ordinary way until page 126 when Adam's dog, Nick, is kidnapped. I wondered if this might have been a better beginning for the story, since at this point the story grabs the heart and emotions and won't let go. As if that wasn't bad enough, Adam soon loses track of his father as well. You just have to keep reading to find out what happens next!

Adam's story is one of suffering and hardship. On the road he meets wonderful people who want to help him as well as evil people who want only to harm and destroy. The contrast of Adam's experience with the lives of children in modern times is going to be an eye-opener for every child who reads this moving novel. Despite all conflict, Adam maintains a sense of gratitude for the experiences life gives him:
"Last night at Guildford Castle, the night before at the Ferryman's house, tonight at Farnham Inn under the merchant's care! Adam thought he knew now why Roger said the road was home to the minstrel. It was because people were kind."
Some of those people were so kind they tried to convert Adam to their styles of living. He was offered opportunities in several different trades, but it was minstrelsy he had his heart set on.

I found a lot of dated expressions in this book. How quickly our language changes! I won't ruin the experience for you by pointing them all out, but expect a 1940s book, because that's what you're going to get when you read Adam of the Road. Quaint in places, but still an excellent children's primer on the life of minstrels in the Middle Ages in England.

My book review blog: Linda Jo Martin. My children's literature blog: Literature For Kids.


Sandy D. said...

I'm going to have to read this one soon. The comments about "the road" remind me of Tolkien's poems and descriptions of the road in "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings". Interesting because "The Hobbit" was published in 1937; LOTR was written between 1937-1949.

Anominis said...

I read this for a class book report and It was great