A young boy’s travels through 13th century England in search of his father and his dog.
Cover illustration by Robert Lawson. This is the Scholastic edition, and is the one I read.
Title: Adam of the Road
Author: Elizabeth Janet Gray Vining (1902-1999)
Publisher: Originally Viking / Penguin Press / also published by Scholastic and others
Original publication date: 1942
Time period: Medieval times, year 1294
POV: third person
Awards won: Newbery Medal, 1943
My Source: I read a paperback with a cover like the large image above.
A young boy travels with his minstrel father and his dog through medieval England. Almost anything that could go wrong does go wrong.
Adam Quartermayne, age 11
Roger Quartermayne, his father, a wandering minstrel
Nick, his dog
Perkin, a friend at St. Alban’s Abbey
An old lady who took care of Nick (the dog)
Margery, daughter of a knight
Bayard, his father’s war horse
Jankin, a dishonest minstrel
This old Newbery Medal winning novel is so dearly loved it is still being sold today. (Some aren’t, for various reasons!)
Life is an adventure.
There’s more to the world that one might suspect.
Some people cannot be trusted.
Keep trying and you may someday find what (or who) you need.
A student made this book trailer about Adam of the Road. Compelling video!!
After a May as gray and cold as December, June came in, that year of 1294, sunny and warm and full of birds and blossoms and all the other happy things the songs praise May for. Adam Quartermayne, who had been looking for his father ever since Easter, thought that now he would surely come. Every morning when he rolled out of his bed in the long dormitory where the school boys slept, he said to himself, “Today he’s coming! I know it!” and every night, disappointed but not daunted, he put himself to sleep making up stories about how his father would come next day.
The writing is clear and easy to understand so middle grade aged children will be able to enjoy reading Adam of the Road on their own. The story is slow at times, so some readers may be a bit bored. Still, it is a great way for children to learn about medieval culture.
My experience of reading the book
I read this book to myself, rather than to my children. I’ll guess, I was about 45 to 50 when I read it as I’m obsessively wanting to read all the Newbery Medal books – both the winners and the honor books! It is definitely not the most exciting Newbery Medal winning book I’ve read, especially when compared with some of the newer winners, but it is also not the worst Newbery Medal book out there. The story sticks in my memory banks as being precious and endearing. Adam is a character one does not easily forget.
My opinion of this book
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 years 1294-1295. The title character, Adam Quartermayne, is the eleven-year-old son of a traveling 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.”
–Adam of the Road page 53
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.”
–Adam of the Road page 292
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.”
–Adam of the Road page166
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.
About the Author
Dr. Elizabeth Janet Gray Vining (1902-1999) was a librarian. She authored more than sixty books. Emperor Hirohito chose her to tutor his son, Crown Prince Akihito, from 1946 to 1950 during the Allied occupation of Japan. She married Morgan Fisher Vining in 1929 but tragically lost him in an automobile accident in 1933, in New York City. She was injured in that accident, and during her convalescence, became a Quaker. She wrote a series of children’s novels, and had eleven books published prior to her service in Japan at the end of World War II. She won the Women’s National Book Association Skinner Award in 1954 for her body of work, and received a Doctorate of Literature from Wilmington College (honorary) in 1964.
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