by Elizabeth Janet Gray (aka Elizabeth Gray Vining)
Age: 8+ (read to); 9+ (independent reading)
Interests: history, medieval times, British history, knights, castles, dogs, travel, adventure
Viking Press: 1943
317 pp., 23 chapters
Next: The Sword in the Stone, A Bundle of Ballads, A Dictionary of Chivalry, Crispin: The Cross of Lead, The Door in the Wall
Also by this author: Meggy MacIntosh, Penn, Young Walter Scott
In 13th century Britain, eleven-year-old Adam attends school in a monastery, but he can hardly wait for the day when he can join his minstrel father Roger on the open road and learn to be a minstrel too. When Roger comes for him and his beloved spaniel Nick, they join the retinue of a great lord on his way to a grand castle estate outside London. After a time Roger and Adam leave the castle to travel once more and enjoy the sights and sounds of bustling London. One night at an inn, Adam’s dog is stolen, and he and Roger set off in pursuit of the thief. Unfortunately Adam soon finds himself separated from Roger as well, and he travels through the countryside and the great country fair at Winchester in search of both Roger and Nick. He suffers hardship and injury, barely escaping an outlaw knight in the woods, but at every turn he finds good folk who help him in return for a song or a poem. After several months he is finally reunited with both his dog and his father. After all his trials Adam is now older and wiser, and even more determined to live his life as a jester on the road.
A high-spirited and eventful journey with a fun-loving boy on the high roads of medieval England. The details of everyday life are fascinating and paint a vivid picture of what life was like at the various levels of medieval society. Adam spends time with all sorts of people he meets along the road, from lords and ladies to merchants, clergymen, farmers, squires, ferrymen, and a company of ragtag and less-than-honest street performers. Britain of the middle ages is portrayed as somewhat lawless and chaotic, but bustling and industrious, and the common folk are generally kind and generous.
A good travel yarn with loads of historical content along the way. Those who like lots of action may find it a bit slow in places and too full of description – this may be a better read-aloud choice, though a patient reader should have no trouble reading it on their own. Besides the historical angle, this is also a winning story of a young boy learning his trade and dealing resourcefully with whatever fate has in store for him.
The illustrations by Robert Lawson (The Story of Ferdinand, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Rabbit Hill, They Were Strong and Good) are detailed and lively, and add to the general sense of fun – see examples below.