Friday, February 22, 2008

Elizabeth Janet Gray

Adam of the Road
by Elizabeth Janet Gray
Recommended Age: 10+

The 1943 winner of the Newbery Medal is still available with its magnificent illustrations by Robert Lawson. It may recall to mind a more recent Newbery Medal winner (Avi's Crispin: The Cross of Lead), as it recounts an adventure of an eleven-year-old minstrel boy in 13th-century England.

Adam Quartermayne is the son of Roger, who, as minstrels go, is on the high-class end. There is nothing Adam loves more than walking around the country, singing and playing his harp and telling stories with his father. So he is impatient to get going after spending an unexpectedly long time in the school at St. Alban's abbey, though he has a good friend named Perkin and a beloved dog named Nick to keep him company.

Finally Roger arrives, revealing that he is now in the service of one Sir Edmund. Adam's big adventure begins when he joins his father, and many other minstrels, at the wedding celebration for Sir Edmund's daughter. One of the other minstrels is a scoundrel named Jankin, who takes a liking to Adam's beloved spaniel Nick. By one way and another, at the earliest opportunity Jankin makes off with Nick, leaving Adam heartbroken yet determined to get his dog back.

Roger and Adam set off together to catch Jankin up and get Nick back, but they are soon separated and it proves even harder to find each other than to find the dog. Nevertheless Adam swims a river, triumphs over a band of robbers, breaks his head open, gets chased by the watch, and walks barefoot through miles of snow before he finds Nick. Then he faces even more difficulties (as well as a good deal of hard labor) before he is reunited with his best friend, his father, and the minstrel life that he loves.

In one boy's travels between June and April, this story delivers a rich and varied picture of life in medieval England, from its seedy inns to its gracious courts, from pious church people to the crude and crooked, from bustling fairs to desolate roads, from cloistered academies to the plowman's team. Every season, and many picturesque settings, passes into view at an interesting and, indeed, pivotal period of English history. Yet at the same time, the book warmly and faithfully focuses on the warm heart and fierce devotion of its charming, determined young hero.

I think this book richly deserves its Medal. And I think it will demand to be re-read from time to time.

No comments: