November 18, 2017

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A King for All Seasons | Focus On

Each evening from December to December
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Of Camelot.

—Alan Jay Lerner, Camelot, the musical (1960)

 

1701-FO-ExcaliburThese words from the final scene of the Lerner and Loewe musical attest to the enduring quality of the King Arthur legends that date back hundreds of years and continue to stir imaginations into the 21st century. Research and archeological findings add new insights into the quest for the “real” King Arthur, who was most likely a Celtic chieftain in fifth-century Britain, attempting to unite native tribes to fight off invaders in post-Roman times. Popularized by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his 12th-century History of the Kings of Britain, the Arthur stories took on an overlay of medievalism. The French writer Chrétien de Troyes is credited for introducing the central character of Lancelot, further romanticizing the stories. Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1485) combined many strains of these legends into one seamless whole and inspired later writers, most notably Tennyson’s Idylls of the King (1859-1885), T. H. White’s now classic retelling, The Once and Future King (1958), and the newly published, unfinished Tolkien poem, The Fall of Arthur (2014). American authors Mark Twain (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1889) and John Steinbeck (The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, 1976) added their unique perspectives to the legend. Even Walt Disney entered the field with his animated The Sword in the Stone (1963). The varied retellings offer an excellent body of material for English Language Arts teachers to teach to the Common Core standard of integrating knowledge, asking students to compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres. The saga emphasizes important lessons for all ages: the value of mentorship, empathy, resilience, trust, and idealism throughout life. As Arthur says to a young squire at the end of White’s retelling and in the final scene of Camelot: “Don’t let it be forgot/That once there was a spot/For one brief, shining moment/That was known as Camelot.”

1701-FO-CVsElementary

BROWN, Marc. King Arthur. (An Arthur Chapter Book). illus. by author. Little, Brown. 1999. Tr $14.75. ISBN 9780316121781; pap. $ $4.99. ISBN 9780316122412.
Gr 1-3–As Arthur’s third-grade class competes in a Middle Ages Fair against a rival school, they lose the early events, including a tug-of-war and a pie-eating contest. Can Arthur and his classmates win the final test by pulling a sword from a stone?

KRAEGEL, Kenneth. King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson. illus. by author. Candlewick. 2012. Tr $ 15.99. ISBN 9780763653118.
K-Gr 2–Six-year-old Henry, the (many times) great-grandson of King Arthur, sets out on a birthday quest for adventure with great bravery and determination, but the mythical beasts he encounters prove more cuddly than confrontational. In the end, Henry acquires new friends rather than conquering foes. Striking watercolor and ink drawings complement the tale.

LEUNG, Julie. A Tail of Camelot. (Mice of the Round Table: Bk. 1). illus. by Lindsay Carr. Harper. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062403995; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062404015.
Gr 3-5–A parallel society of mice lives under King Arthur’s court, and young Calib Christopher dreams of becoming a knight. But a threat gathering in the outside world jeopardizes the mice and the Two-Leggers just as a new squire named Galahad arrives. Redwall meets Camelot in this exciting new series.

MORRIS, Gerald. The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great. illus. by Aaron Renier. (The Knights’ Tales: Bk. 1). HMH. 2009. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780547237565; ebk. $4.99. ISBN 9780547529868.
Gr 3-5–Sir Lancelot arrives at Camelot to join Arthur’s court, becoming the greatest knight of all. Morris laces the adventure with gentle humor, echoed in the cartoon-style illustrations. Short chapters, lively language, and skillful plotting add appeal for emerging readers. See also The Adventures of Sir Givret the Short (2009), The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True (2013), and The Adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-Fated (2013).

OSBORNE, Mary Pope. Christmas in Camelot. (Magic Tree House #29). illus. by Sal Murdocca. Random. 2001. Tr $11.95. ISBN 9780375813733; pap. $ 4.99. ISBN 9780375858123; ebk. $4.99. ISBN 9780375894527.
Gr 2-4–Fans of the popular series will revel in this adventure that sends Jack and Annie back to the court of King Arthur at a very subdued holiday feast, where they eagerly accept a quest to protect the kingdom from an evil spell, proving once again that children can save the day.

SABUDA, Robert & Matthew Reinhart. Castle: Medieval Days and Knights. text and paper engineering by Kyle Olmon. illus. by Tracy Sabin. Scholastic/Orchard. 2006. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9780439951159.
K Up–This dramatically three-dimensional rendering of the days of yore includes interior and exterior castle scenes as well as a silver-foil, pop-up suit of medieval armor. The text contains enough detail to present a picture of life for nobles and peasants alike, and a full-page spread with movable parts depicts important craft workers.

SMITH, Danna. The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry. illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline. Candlewick. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763679927.
Gr 1-4–In rhythmic verse, the daughter of a castle falconer thrills to the excitement of this quintessential medieval sport. Soaring gouache illustrations follow the hawk from his castle perch through his ascent to a broad sky, while a separate inset text explains the specific equipment and rituals of falconry. An extensive author’s note gives further background.

Middle School

COOPER, Susan. Over Sea, Under Stone. Bk.1. 2013. ISBN 9781442495920.
––––The Dark Is Rising. Bk. 2. 1973. ISBN 9780689303173.
––––Greenwitch. Bk. 3. 1985. ISBN 9780689304262.
––––The Grey King. Bk. 4. 1975 ISBN 9780689500299.
––––Silver on the Tree. Bk. 5. 1977. ISBN 9780689500886.
ea vol. (The Dark Is Rising Sequence). ebook available. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry. Tr $17.99
Gr 5-9–In Cooper’s sweeping epic of the struggle between forces of good and evil, the background of Arthurian legend is prominent. When the Dark comes rising, Will Stanton, the youngest of the Old Ones, is guided in his quest to save the world by his mentor Merriman (Merlin), who also involves the three Drew siblings and a strange Welsh boy, Bran.

GREEN, Roger Lancelyn. King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table. illus. by Lotte Reiniger. ebook available Puffin. 2008. pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780141321011.
Gr 5-9–The finest retelling of the Arthurian stories from Malory, this includes the glory days of Lancelot, Percivale, Gareth, Galahad, and others, through the treachery of Mordred and the spine-tingling hope that Arthur may come again. In a spirited introduction, British writer David Almond explains why this was his favorite childhood book and continues to inspire him.

LIMKE, Jeff. King Arthur: Excalibur Unsheathed. illus. by Thomas Yeates. Lerner/Graphic Universe. 2007. pap. $8.95. ISBN 9780822564836.
Gr 5-7–A graphic novel retelling of the entire scope of the Arthurian story, this volume features quick-paced action and stunning illustrations to capture even the most reluctant reader. For today’s visually oriented youth, this approach draws them to a superhero from another age.

MORPURGO, Michael. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. illus. by Michael Foreman. Candlewick. 2004. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780763673215.
Gr 5-8–Sir Gawain’s greatest challenge is a quest of honor as well as courage, with deeper meanings embedded in the fast-moving plot. Morpurgo’s sprightly retelling contains equal doses of horror and humor, while Foreman’s larger-than-life watercolor and pastel paintings enliven the story in brilliant hues and bloody detail.

Digital Picks

Websites

The Camelot Project. d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot-project.
Gr 9 Up–An extensive exploration of the Arthurian legends, this compilation from the Rossell Hope Robbins Library includes interviews with authors who have adapted the material, a list of characters and places, descriptions of symbols and motifs, and an invaluable collection of artists’ images.

Not-So-Dark-Ages Revealed. http://ow.ly/2kAl3075GVp.
Gr 7 Up–Recent archeological excavations at the Tintagel castle in Cornwall have turned up fascinating evidence of fortifications and artifacts from the time that an historical King Arthur may have been conceived there. Tintagel has been a tourist destination for many years, but the recent findings shed new light on the old site.

King Arthur’s Round Table Revealed. http://ow.ly/eP6z3075HhR.
Gr 7 Up–A brief article and two short videos introduce the enduring nature of the Arthurian legends and how they relate to the history of Britain through the ages.

Audio

TWAIN, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. narrated by Flo Gibson. Audio Book Contractors. 2003. ISBN 9781606461815. Also available on Audible.
Gr 7 Up–Hank Morgan wakes up after a blow on the head to find himself back in the era of King Arthur, where he must use 19th-century knowledge to stay alive and rise in power. Narrator Gibson gives life to the various voices of the court and peasantry while capturing Twain’s humor throughout.

Video

WOOD, Michael. In Search of Myths and Heroes. PBS Home Video. 2005.
Gr 5 Up–Called “the Indiana Jones of factual television,” actor Michael Wood hosts four quests for historical information about enduring myths, including an episode on his search for the “real” King Arthur. Wood’s enthusiasm for his subjects is infectious as well as informative. A companion website is available at www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes.

PATERSON, Katherine. Parzival: The Quest of the Grail Knight. ebook available. Penguin. 1998. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780141305738.
Gr 5-8–With humor and lilting language, this classic coming-of-age story recounts the physical and spiritual trials of a naïve boy who yearns to become a knight of Arthur’s court. The origin of the Fisher King legend adds a note of poignancy to this slim saga about doing the right thing at all costs.

Older Readers

ANDERSON, M.T. Yvain: The Knight of the Lion. illus. by Andrea Offermann. Candlewick. Mar. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780763659394.
Gr 8 Up–Told here in graphic novel exuberance, Yvain’s exploits express the way “hatred and love may live cramped together, crouching in the same heart.” The tale, from a 12th-century romance poem by Chrétien de Troyes, illuminates medieval issues such as the plight of women, brawling knights, and ever-present sorcery.

CABOT, Meg. The Merlin Prophecy. Vol. 1. 2007. ISBN 9780061177071
––––Homecoming. Vol. 2. 2008. ISBN 9780061177095.
––––Hunter’s Moon. Vol. 3. 2009. ISBN 9780061177101.
ea vol : illus. by Jinky Coronado. (Avalon High Coronation) HarperCollins. pap. $9.99
Gr 9 Up–A popular YA novelist adapts her modern-day retelling of the Arthurian story (Avalon High, HarperTeen, 2005) into three manga-style graphic editions. Will, a star quarterback, and his friend Lance find themselves in a love triangle with cheerleader Jennifer. A new student, Ellie, representing the Lady of the Lake, comes to Will’s aid in a face-off with his mean stepbrother Marco.

CROSSLEY-HOLLAND, Kevin. The Seeing Stone. 2001. ISBN 9780545232081.
––––At the Crossing Places. Bk. 2. 2002. ISBN 9780545229906.
––––King of the Middle March. Bk. 3. 2004. ISBN 9780545231763
ea vol: (Arthur Trilogy). Scholastic. ebk. $4.99
Gr 7 Up–At the turn of the 13th century, a boy named Arthur receives a magical stone from the mysterious Merlin that shows him scenes from the life and times of the earlier legendary king. The stories relate loosely to his own development, as the boy grows from page to knight, from innocence to wisdom, and becomes enmeshed in the societal upheavals of his times and the ill-fated Fourth Crusade.

HARDYMENT, Christina. Malory: The Knight Who Became King Arthur’s Chronicler. HarperCollins. 2006. pap. $18.95. ISBN 9780060935290.
Gr 11 Up–For older high school students, this adult biography of Thomas Malory provides fascinating history of the 15th century and the political intrigues of the Wars of the Roses. Most of Malory’s masterpiece was written in prison, as he was often on the wrong side in that age’s constantly shifting alliances.

PHILLIPS, Graham. The Lost Tomb of King Arthur: The Search for Camelot and the Isle of Avalon. ebook available. Bear & Company. 2016. pap. $18. ISBN 9781591431817
Gr 9 Up–In this compelling account, a British journalist describes his hunt through research, archeology, and myth to support the actual existence of the legendary king in post-Roman Britain. Readers will learn how each element of these magical tales may have a basis in historical fact.

TOLKIEN, J.R.R. The Fall of Arthur. edited by Christopher Tolkien. HMH. 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9780544115897; pap. $15.95 ISBN 9780544227835; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780544126060.
Gr 9 Up–Tolkien began this poem, in the style of Beowulf, in the early 1930s, but apparently abandoned it when he was preparing to publish The Hobbit. The unfinished poem, in print for the first time, includes illuminating essays by Tolkien’s son and literary executor, connecting this version of the Arthurian story to the Middle Earth mythology.

WHITE, T. H. The Once and Future King. Penguin. 2016. Tr $30. ISBN 9780143111610.
Gr 9 Up–The version of the Arthurian legend that inspired the Broadway musical Camelot and the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone has been reissued in a collection of six iconic science fiction/fantasy titles. In the introduction, Neil Gaiman equates reading this tale to honoring those who lived through the Second World War, fighting against an evil empire.

Teachers and Administrators

OESTREICHER, Paul. Camelot, Inc.: Leadership and Management Insights from King Arthur and the Round Table. Greenwood. 2011. Tr $38. ISBN 9780313386954.
Using copious quotes from T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, the author stresses meaningful lessons gleaned from Arthurian legend for today’s managers. Aimed at business professionals, these insights are equally useful for classroom management and educational administrators.


Connie Rockman, formerly of the Ferguson Library and the Stratford Library in Connecticut, is a literature consultant and editor of the eighth, ninth, and 10th Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators.

This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Comments

  1. I’d like to add some of my favorites to this fine list:
    Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve
    Gerald Morris has written nine or ten tales perfect for middle grade starting with The Squire’s Tale.
    The Wizard’s Dog by Eric Gale Kahn was just released and tells a tale from the POV of Nosewise, Merlin’s dog.
    Nancy Springer wrote from Mordred’s POV in I am Mordred. She also wrote one from Morgan le Fay’s POV.
    Lisa Ann Sandell’s Song of the Sparrow is a verse novel from the POV of Elaine.
    Jane Yolen’s Sword of the Rightful King.

    • Connie Rockman says:

      These would all have been part of my list, Brenda, if only there had been more space. It was hard to decide which ones to include within the constraints I had. This list is meant to be a starting point, and I’m so glad you mentioned the others. Thanks!

  2. Kathleen Armstrong says:

    The Merlin Saga by T.A. Barron needs to be included beginning with The Lost Years of Merlin. Wonderful series.

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