In his first work of fiction, Giblin (When Plague Strikes; The Truth About Unicorns) retells the final episode of a little-known Arthurian adventure, but without memorable results. Stranded on an island with his men, Arthur comes across an articulate English-born dwarf. The dwarf recounts how he and his infant son-now a giant-ended up on the island and survived with the help of a unicorn, who suckled the infant and hunted for the dwarf. Arthur does not perform any feats of particular bravery: his role is a talking one. The dwarf worries that his son, who has killed other visitors to the island, may harm Arthur, but the giant is not truly menacing, just unsocialized. When he finally appears, Arthur pacifies him by saying, "I want to be your friend." Unfortunately, Ewart's (One Cold Night) hazy watercolor and colored pencil art does not add suspense to this talky story. In only two pictures is Arthur brought sufficiently into focus to give readers a sense of what he looks like. The artist's muted style works somewhat better for the flashback scenes, which depict tiny unicorns frolicking in deep woods, framed with period-inspired borders. Giblin notes in an afterword that the story's inclusion of a female unicorn is rare; it is too bad that this minor addition to the Arthurian canon doesn't have something more eventful to distinguish it. Ages 7-10. (Oct.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Giblin, acclaimed for his fine nonfiction books, takes on fiction for the first time in this retelling of a little known Arthurian tale. When the young King Arthur finds his ship grounded on a strange island, he goes off in search of strong help. The old dwarf he meets gives him aid through a curious story and the assistance of his unicorn-raised giant son. Ewart's watercolors add a hazy, dreamy tone to the story.
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Gr 2-5Giblin retells a story from a late medieval Arthurian romance, Le Chevalier du Papegau. The young Arthur, newly crowned, sets sail with his knights in search of adventure. Their ship runs aground on an island inhabited only by a dwarf, his son, and a unicorn. Arthur listens to the dwarf's story of shipwreck and finds out how his baby son was nursed and nurtured by a unicorn until he grew into a giant. Belligerent and fiercely strong, the giant must be persuaded that Arthur and his knights are friends before pulling the beached ship into deep water. Dwarf, giant, and unicorn come aboard and travel to Camelot where they live happily ever after in Arthur's kingdom. Despite the intriguing cast of characters, and despite Giblin's skill in description and dialogue, this story within a story moves at a lengthy, measured pace, without climactic action, twist of plot, or any familiar Arthurian theme. The sketchy watercolor paintings are bland but have been skillfully varied in size and placement. As a nice touch, those pictures illustrating the dwarf's tale are distinguished from the main story by colorful borders decorated with Celtic motifs. Unfortunately, Giblin's smooth writing cannot compensate for the overlong and unexciting plot.Shirley Wilton, Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ
An authentic Arthurian romance inspired this foray into fiction for Giblin (When Plague Strikes, 1995, etc.).
Early in his reign, young King Arthur and his knights are shipwrecked on an uncharted island where the king meets and converses with a dwarf who lives in a giant tower. The dwarf nervously tells Arthur his story: His wife died during childbirth, but his son survived, and was suckled on the milk of a unicorn. As a result, the boy grew to giant size and has killed everyone who has landed on the island out of misunderstandingthus, the dwarf's apprehension. The giant is at first suspicious of Arthur but allows himself to be reassured, agreeing to help the shipwrecked survivors. The book's main themedestroying out of fearis nearly manifested when Arthur introduces the giant to his shipmates, but cooler heads prevail, and everyone works together to relaunch the boat. Ewart's vivid watercolors bring a sense of wonder to the tale, especially as the giant pushes the ship like a toy. Giblin's ending is happy, if a bit easy: the dwarf, the giant, and the unicorn become the newest citizens of Camelotbut no message of acceptance or tolerance is ever wasted. An author's note provides commentary on the story's centuries-old origins.