My girls and I finally finished the chapter book read-aloud that we started right after Christmas (I think?), Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray, and what a good time we had with it! Winner of the 1943 Newbery Medal, Adam of the Road is the story of Adam the minstrel’s son and his adventures as he travels about the English countryside. Adam is a likable fellow, very warmhearted and loving, and we couldn’t help but grow to love him and root for him as he searches for his father and his dog, Nick. What I like most about this story is that it very unobtrusively presents many, many facets of Medieval life. From life in a castle among the nobility to the wandering life of a minstrel and almost everything in between, we get a taste of what life was like for the people of the Middle Ages. In this regard it reminds me a bit of Hans Brinker (linked to my review), but the lessons are much more palatable in Adam of the Road. Simple but lovely word pictures abound in this story:
Adam hesitated. Then he told the story. He exaggerated it a little. He played the sour notes on his harp and he made them sound even worse than they really had. The young squire, who had been looking rather unhappy, threw back his head and shouted with laughter. Adam threw back his head too and laughed, strangely eased of his pain. For the first time in his life he had played the part of an oyster. He had taken the bit of grit that was scratching him and made something of it that was comfortable to him and pleasing to someone outside. He had made a valuable discovery, but he did not know it at the moment; he only knew that he felt happy again, and he wagged his head a little. (63)
I also really like that Roger, Adam’s father, is a very skilled and passionate minstrel, and he passes his love for his vocation on to his son. During his travels, Adam falls in with a family of minstrels whose standard for minstrelsy is much lower than Roger’s; they ” ‘give people what they want,’ ” and Adam notices the difference:
At first that sounded like what Roger used to say. “A minstrel must fit his tale to his listeners,” but when Adam thought it over he decided that it was quite different. Roger told tales that fitted the good in people, tales about courage and danger and adventure and love. (238)
I love that “Roger told tales that fitted the good in people.” I think the best stories do that.
My girls were quite taken in by this story and usually begged for just one more chapter each time our read-aloud session came to an end. They also drew several comparisons between it and another Newbery winner, The Door in the Wall by Margaret De Angeli. This is one I read, reviewed, and loved a couple of years ago, and since then I have had Lulu read it and both girls have listened to it numerous times in audio. I also have to mention that the version of Adam of the Road that we read is the one pictured below, not the one linked above. I think the Robert Lawson’s playful illustrations make hunting out this particular edition worthwhile.
Another Medieval read-aloud we have shared in the past few weeks is Castle by David Macaulay. Winner of a 1978 Caldecott honor, Castle is the fictional tale of the building of a castle in Wales. More informational than plot-driven, this black-and-white picture book gives a detailed description of how the castle is built from below ground and up. Obviously, David Macaulay‘s line drawings are amazing. I honestly think this one might best be read individually so that the reader can sit and soak up the description, flip back to the glossary to learn the meaning of a technical term or two, and study the drawings. As it was we read it over several days, stopping when I felt my brain couldn’t take any more description (or the DLM demanded my attention, or both). I do not visualize things easily, so perhaps I am playing to my own weakness here; Louise actually recognized the word portcullis (and not just the word, but what it is) from her careful studying and reading-what-she-could-by-herself of You Wouldn’t Want to Live in a Medieval Castle, so I offer it as a companion to these other stories. I don’t particularly like to read the very visually complicated You Wouldn’t Want to. . . books, but they’re good ones, and the kids generally really like them.
I’m linking this post up to this month’s Award Winning Books Reading Challenge at Gathering Books.
Happy Read Aloud Thursday!