Monday, July 23, 2012

1943 - Adam of the Road

The other day I swung by the library, and while I was there skimmed through the aisle of youth fiction, scanning for Newbery Award books. Handily, the spines display the ribbon logo and description "Newbery Award," so it's easy to pick them out. I selected a few that I was unfamiliar with and might not come across in the thrift stores. One of these was Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray.

Adam is an 11 year old minstrel boy, the son of a minstrel. He's been left with the monks at the Abbey of St. Alban for a bit of schooling while his father is on the road. The year is 1294, and Adam is not-so-patiently waiting for the return of Roger, his father, so they can be together again. He sings and plays his harp, turns cartwheels and practices other tricks to get the attention of folks who would be inclined to give an ear to the stories and songs of the wandering minstrel. Soon enough, Roger comes to collect Adam, having left him alone with us just long enough for us to get to know him a little bit and find out the four things that matter the most to him in the world: his dog, Nick, his father, Roger, his best friend, Perkin, and his craft, minstrelsy.

There is nothing astounding or hard to believe about the plot of Adam of the Road; Adam loses some of the ones he loves the best and must find them and be reunited. But that is actually a strength of this book. There are no special effects, i.e. faeries and magic, or overly dramatic plot lines, i.e. murder, evil and fanatical monks, to distract one from following along Adam's journey and marveling at the different world of 1294. The reader can settle down into the world of the early English middle ages with some of the best descriptions and evocative details of that era I have come across in children's literature. This work is a fine example of "show it, don't tell it" in writing. Adam experiences the roasted capon, the smells of London, his worn out leather shoes, the silky feel of Nick's coat, and the reader experiences it also.

The pen and ink illustrations by Robert Lawson are detailed and charming.

I especially enjoyed understanding just what a minstrel's lot was. He had a right of entrance, to offer his entertainment to the occupants. I realized how the people must have appreciated the skills of a minstrel. There were no movies, folks usually couldn't read, the church was the source of most community music. And people really appreciated "the right sort of minstrel."

I liked this part, I quote, when Roger and Adam stopped at an inn for the night. Roger was performing the story of Murray the king and his son Horn.

"When he reached the fight between Horn and the pagan knight, he stopped in the middle of the sentence. 'Good friends,' he said, 'give me some reward for my art, and I will continue.' Adam snatched off his cap and went with it from one to another. One merchant put in one silver penny; the other hesitated, but when Adam made Nick stand up and ask for it, he laughed and threw in a penny."

Toward the end, I became so impatient for Adam to find what he was looking for, I was tempted to rush, but I made myself slow down, to stay in that world a little longer.


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