Adam of the Road
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Adam of the Road, published in 1942, was written by American author and librarian Elizabeth Janet Gray Vining and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Vining wrote many children’s books and holds the rare distinction of winning both the Newberry Medal and the Caldecott Medal, for her books Rabbit Hill and They Were Strong and Good, respectively. Adam of the Road is a historical fiction novel set in the 13th century that focuses on a child’s coming of age in the face of adversity and his search for a sense of home, belonging, and fulfillment. Adam of the Road received a Newberry Medal for excellence in American children’s literature in 1943.
This guide refers to the Puffin Modern Classics print edition.
Adam of the Road is set in England in June 1294 and follows 11-year-old Adam Quartermayne, an enthusiastic boy who loves his harp, his dog, Nick, and his father, Roger the minstrel. In this era, minstrels were traveling performers. When the story begins, Adam is learning to read and write in St. Alban’s School while he waits for Roger to return from France, where he is learning minstrel songs and stories that appeal to the nobility. Adam spends his time outside class making up games with his friend, Perkin, playing his harp and singing for the other students, and taking food to Nick, who is living with an elderly woman Adam knows in town.
When Roger returns, he reports that a knight chose him to accompany his party and gifted him an impressive warhorse named Bayard. Roger and Adam travel to London with the knight’s family and servants and spend a peaceful few months at the knight’s home. Adam spends his days learning new songs and stories from Roger and playing with the other children at the estate. Adam and Roger perform at the knight’s daughter’s wedding. After the wedding, they are free to roam the country until Christmas, when they must return to the knight’s house.
All is well until a rival minstrel named Jankin beats Roger in a gambling game, taking all his money and his warhorse. Adam and Roger must then travel by foot, stopping at inns to perform on their way to St. Giles Fair, a three-week-long festival in Winchester. At one inn, Adam and Roger run unto Jankin; Bayard is lame because of Jankin’s abuse. During the night, Jankin steals Nick from Adam and leaves the inn.
Adam is devastated when he wakes up and realizes that Nick is gone. A stable boy tells Roger that Jankin “traded” the lame warhorse for Nick, but neither Roger nor Adam agreed to this trade. Adam is afraid that Jankin will mistreat Nick just as he mistreated Bayard, so Roger and Adam follow Jankin’s trail. They become separated while pursuing Jankin, and, for the first time in his life, Adam is alone. Adam believes he will find Roger and Nick at St. Giles Fair and begins traveling alone.
At this point, the story becomes episodic, with each chapter describing a new adventure Adam finds himself in. Many strangers assist him on his journey to the Fair. He is fed and cared for by the ferryman and his wife and invited to travel with a rich merchant. While he is traveling with the merchant, a rogue knight robs them and kidnaps the merchant and his men. Adam escapes and rounds up a local bailiff and soldiers to follow the rogue knight and free the merchant.
After the merchant is freed, they continue to St. Giles Fair. Adam is overwhelmed by the number of people and begins to doubt if he will find Roger or Nick. While watching a performance put on by St. Swithin’s Church in Winchester, Adam falls from the top of a wall and injures his head. It takes weeks for him to recover, and he begins to feel hopeless. The parish priest who cared for him expects Adam to give up minstrelsy and become a parish clerk. Adam’s determination to find his father and Nick and become a minstrel is tested.
In that same chapter, Adam finds a family of minstrels willing to travel to London with him. Adam quickly learns that this family is a different kind of minstrel family than he and Roger. While traveling with them, Adam is often hungry, is nearly arrested, and loses his beloved harp. He longs more and more for a sense of home, belonging, and fulfillment, missing Nick and Roger terribly. He eventually makes his way back to the knight’s house, expecting to find Roger, but he learns that Roger traveled to Wales with the knight’s family.
Adam spends a long, boring winter in the mostly empty knight’s house, waiting for Roger to return. He finds ways to occupy himself until he runs into Jankin, whom he angrily tackles. He learns that Nick ran away from Jankin and is in the care of Adam’s old friend, Perkin. Adam’s journey to Perkin and Nick leads him back through medieval England, where he encounters many historical landmarks and events. He finds Nick and spends a few months working as a farm boy and staying with Perkin’s family before continuing to Oxford, where he sees King Edward Longshanks’s messenger in Oxford and hears about the historic Parliament that includes common people for the first time. While he is in Oxford, Adam and Roger reunite. Roger gives Adam the opportunity to stay at Oxford and study, but Adam confidently decides he would rather be a minstrel and live on the road. Roger takes off his right glove to shake Adam’s hand, greeting him as an equal and calling him “son” in a rare expression of affection.