The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
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Perfect "knightly" read-aloud for younger children.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

In a conversational tone, Morris manages to teach readers the rules of chivalry with humor and grace. Without going into an abundance of historical detail, he makes clear the difference between King Arthur's rule and that of other kings, and he talks about how important it is for knights not only to rescue people, but also to be polite to them while doing so.

Positive messages

King Arthur pretty much sums it up: "Courtesy is even more important than wearing metal suits and bashing people from horses." The true meaning of chivalry, with the empathy and gallantry it requires, is explored, and friendship is valued above all.

Positive role models & representations

Gawain is an excellent knight, and he knows it, perhaps a little too well. But he's also a quick study -- when he makes a mistake, he learns from it. This ranks him above other knights who may fight almost as well as Gawain, but never see their own folly or faults.

Violence & scariness

There is plenty of battling with lances and swords, but no knight is seriously hurt. Sir Gawain does cut off the Green Knight's head, but the knight simply picks it up off the floor, tucks it under his arm, and rides off.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is a great read-aloud for early-grade kids who can't get enough of knights but aren't yet ready for the longer books about King Arthur (including Morris' own The Squire's Tale and the rest of the series, which are best suited for ages 9 and up). This will also serve as an enjoyable introduction for those who aren't yet familiar with the Round Table, and Morris' sly humor will appeal to adults as well as children. Because of its length and the spot illustrations scattered throughout, this can also work well as a first chapter book for kids to read on their own. This book is the third in a series, and Morris plans to write more, each centering on a different knight. It's not necessary to read the others to understand this one -- although children who enjoy this one will probably demand to hear the others!

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What's the story?

Undefeated Sir Gawain is King Arthur's best knight, so of course he'll accept the Green Knight's challenge, whatever it may be. However, he is not quite prepared when the knight invites Gawain to chop his head off with an axe. When Gawain obliges, the knight's disembodied head informs him that in one year's time it will be his turn to cut off Gawain's head. For the first time in his life, Sir Gawain is afraid. The court is sure that Gawain is doomed, except for King Arthur, who suggests his knights go on a quest to figure out how Gawain can prevent his awful fate.

Is it any good?

Although author Morris makes no secret that there is a moral to this classic tale, it is delivered with humor, sensitivity, and the occasional wink to the reader. Children will enjoy seeing the silliness that the serious knights are oblivious to, especially when Gawain plays the straight man to several absurd characters (like Sir Bredbaddle the Huntsman, who is shocked when Gawain guesses his favorite activity). Each of the 10 chapters introduces a new adventure that connects to the overarching story of the Green Knight and leads to Gawain's gradual transformation from self-satisfied Sir Gawain the Undefeated to the wiser Sir Gawain the True. The quick pace, short chapters, and occasional spot illustrations make this a perfect first chapter book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what King Arthur tales you are already familiar with. Had you ever heard of Sir Gawain? 

  • Gawain meets all sorts of interesting characters during the year he waits to meet the Green Knight again. Who was your favorite? Why?

  • Sir Gawain solves a mystery at the end. What clues did he have? How do you think he figured it out?

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