fiction favorites…Adam of the Road

Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray, illustrated by Robert Lawson

“My faith,” said Adam, “look at the road.”

It stretched ahead of them across a long, level field and up a hill so far away that the men and horses on it looked like chessmen.  For the first time since they had started, Adam really knew that he was sitting behind Roger on a great war horse, with Nick at his heels and the world before him.

“The Romans made this road, hundreds and hundreds of years ago,” said Roger. “It will be here hundreds and hundreds of years after we’re gone…A road’s a kind of holy thing…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.”

Adam Quartermayne, eleven years old, is on the road with his minstrel father, Roger.  The year is 1294.  Roger is an exceptional minstrel, trained in the latest romantic ballads from France, and there’s no place Adam would rather be than proudly journeying with him beneath the open sky, accompanied by his beloved spaniel, Nick.  Presently, they’re on their way to London with Roger’s wealthy patron.

Troubles begin falling like rain, however, beginning with the loss of Roger’s fine horse, Bayard, and the theft of Adam’s dog.  Quickly, Adam finds himself alone, separated from his father when he pursues Nick, encountering all varieties of fellow-travelers and meeting up with one adventure after another.  The road becomes more than a lark for Adam; it becomes his proving-ground, as he perseveres through many difficulties with courage and honesty and steadfastness.  When he is finally reunited with his father, his new-found maturity is apparent, and they happily take up their minstrels’ life, together again, on the road.

Elizabeth Gray won the Newbery Medal for this superb historical fiction in 1943.  Her ability to weave myriads of colorful, medieval details into an engrossing quest story, is hard to match.  Adam is an extremely likable character.  His love for his dog, Nick, completely endears this story to all of us fellow dog-lovers.  Add to this a fascinating depiction of minstrelsy, nobility, medieval fairs, inns, abbeys, and much, much more, and you have one of the best Newbery titles out there.

Robert Lawson’s extraordinary ink drawings of the scenes and people of 13th-century England are beautiful, and very helpful in picturing the countryside and clothing, architecture and implements of the time.  This makes a great read-aloud for ages 7 and up, yet is riveting for adults as well with its historical detail and Gray’s smooth, perfectly-cadenced writing.  Highly recommended!

Here’s the Amazon link:  Adam of the Road (Puffin Modern Classics)