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Arthur of Albion Review by Shauna Rumbaugh

By John Matthews and Pavel Tatarnikov
Barefoot Books
2067 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02140

Arthur of Albion is a gorgeous book! I squealed when I first opened this hardbound volume of stories about King Arthur, with its gold-embossed cloth spine and beautiful illustrations. The book is a collection of stories about Arthur, Excalibur, Camelot, the Golden Wood, and the Knights of the Round Table. Likely the most well-known story in the compilation centers on the quest for the Holy Grail, a relic that first appears to the Fellowship of the Round Table while they gather for the feast of Pentecost.

Author John Matthews is a historian and scholar who has written dozens of books about the Arthurian legend, and he clearly knows his subject well. Illustrator Pavel Tatarnikov spent a year in England while working on the rich watercolor and watercolor pencil illustrations that bring Arthur Pendragon, Merlin, Lancelot, Percivale, and other characters to life. The adventurous stories capture the reader's interest, and the prose is well suited for reading aloud.

The 96-page book includes a poster map of The Realm of Albion (Albion is an old literary name for Great Britain) that pinpoints the locations of legendary places and events in Arthur's life. The book includes introductory material about Arthur of Albion; The Ladies of the Lake; Magical Creatures; Camelot and the Round Table; Merlin the Wise; Knights, Their Horses, Weapons and Armor; Ladies of the Court; Magical Encounters; The Grail; and The Magic of Albion. The two pages of explanatory material in each section are followed by a related story of a knightly quest or other adventure, including "The Boy Who Became King," "How King Arthur First Came by the Sword Excalibur," "The Quest for the White Hart," "The Adventures of Sir Lancelot," "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," and more.

The short explanatory text was occasionally dry and academic. Though I enjoyed it for the most part, I was less impressed with this material than the actual stories. Barefoot Books suggests Arthur of Albion for independent readers ages 8 to adult and as a read-aloud for ages 6 to 10. I would recommend it for the upper elementary range and older. Some of the knights' quests depict beheadings and other battle-related violence. Though these scenes are not graphic, they may be too intense for younger children. Some of the language is more complex than what would usually be geared toward middle-grade readers, so the book might also be challenging for younger students to read independently.

Having studied the Arthurian legend in high school, I enjoyed reacquainting myself with the familiar stories in Arthur of Albion as well as reading about characters and quests I had not heard of before. The book will likely appeal to families who appreciate The Lord of the Rings and similar fantasy series. Fairy-tale magic, dragons, fairies, wizards, and other mystical and mythical creatures appear in the stories. Many of the tales also feature chivalry and courtly romance, as is typical of British literature set in this time period.

Though not a homeschooling essential, Arthur of Albion provides a solid introduction to the Arthurian legend, and it would tie in with medieval history and British literature studies. A list of books recommended for further reading is included at the book's conclusion. The book's quality is outstanding, and its artistic merits make it stand out.

Product review by Shauna Rumbaugh, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2009