Saturday, March 16, 2013

Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray

Adam of the Road marks Elizabeth Janet Gray's final appearance on the Newbery list, and she's had several!

1943 was definitely a good Newbery year, and the winner doesn't disappoint.  Adam is our title character, the son of Roger the Minstrel.  Adam has likewise learned the ways of the road, having traveled extensively with his father and learning his trade.  As the story begins, Adam is at a boarding school awaiting the return of Roger, who has gone to France to improve his skills and learn new stories and songs to bring back with him.  Adam's beloved spaniel, Nick, is also at boarding school with him (although in the care of a local widow, since he isn't permitted to stay in the dormitory).

When Roger returns, he, Adam and Nick leave their friends behind and join a wagon convoy headed to the estate of  Sir Edmund de Lisle, who has become Roger's patron.  Roger's prior performances had pleased de Lisle so much that he had given Roger a retired war horse named Bayard, whom Roger and Adam are able to ride on their long journey.  Roger and Nick settle in nicely at the estate, and Adam makes friends with the children there.  They, and several other minstrels, are also permitted to perform at a wedding, and Adam is proud to receive, along with the adults, a small purse of pennies in recognition of his performance.

The following morning, it is time to leave.  De Lisle doesn't have need of his minstrels all the time, so once again, Roger, Adam and Nick will make their home along the road until they are needed in the future.  Unfortunately, Bayard does not join them- Roger had spent the night playing dice with the other minstrels and lost his pennies, and then the horse trying to get them back.  Jankin, a fellow minstrel, has won the horse.  When they encounter him later, Jankin offers Roger the chance to gamble Nick to win him back, but Roger firmly declines.  Nick does not belong to him, and he's had his fill of gambling.

Further on, at an inn, the encounter Jankin again.  He has lamed Bayard through rough riding.  The next morning, they awake to find that Jankin is gone, as is Nick!  A stable hand is questioned and we learn that Jankin claimed that Roger traded Nick for Bayard, and snuck out in the early hours of the morning.  This is where our story really begins- Roger and Adam pursue Jankin to a large fair, but Adam follows his own leads and is separated from his father.  The remainder of the book follows Adam as he learns to be a minstrel in his own right, while following clues and desperately trying to find both his dog and his father.

Nick is an extremely likeable character!  He's also mature for his age (at least by today's standards) but genuine and kind.  This would be a great book for young readers who have an interest in medieval England- the perspective of the minstrel isn't one that's often considered!

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