Cammuso, F. (2008), Knights of the Lunch Table: The dodgeball chronicles. New York: Scholastic.
Appetizer: Artie and his family have just moved to a new house and Artie is nervous about starting his new school, Camelot Middle School. And he learns he had reasons to be nervous. It turns out the school is ruled by bullies and an unjust principal. It falls to Artie and his two new friends to rise and battle the bullies (the equivalent of a horde of Roman soldiers) in a game of dodgeball.
Students already familiar with Arthurian legend will meet many twists on familiar characters that are mapped onto a modern school setting. Merlin is now Mr. Merlyn the science teacher. The Lady of the Lake becomes the lunch ladies of the icky, green, pea soup. The sword in the stone is a locker that only a student "true of heart" can open. And on and on.
I was greatly entertained by this book. Not only because the way myth and legend are presented in children's literature is the subject of my dissertation, but I was also impressed by how thorough Cammuso was in his re-presentation. I can't help but wonder if he can keep it up for the sequel, The Dragon Players. (Tune in at some unknown future date for that review!)
I especially liked that there was multicultural representation with the characters. Guinevere is re-imagined as Gwen Lee and Merlin and Percy are both African American. This can visually welcome in young readers who feel like traditional tellings of Arthurian legend may not represent or welcome them in.
I was also entertained because there are messages about what the role of education is. The principal, Mrs. Dagger, states, "Some teachers, like Mr. Merlyn, would have you believe that a successful education is based on freedom, respect and understanding. I'll tell you what that's a combination for...failure. Education means discipline, control, fear..." (p. 19). Such a nice conversation starter for undergraduate education majors. Of course, another option would be to use a passage like this one to ask high school students "what does education mean to you?" Asking something like that could influence the way a teacher could conduct their class over the following year.
Having said all of this though, the ending of the graphic novel did feel a little abrupt. And I didn't like how Artie...did something. It felt like cheating. But I don't want to give spoilers. If you've read the book, feel free to leave a comment and we can discuss more.
ARTIE: "My stomach hurst. Can I stay home?
MOM: It's just butterflies. Besides, you can't miss your first day at the new school.
ARTIE: Why did we have to move? What if the new kids don't like me> What if they find out I stink at sports? What if my locker doesn't open? What if..." (p. 4).
PERCY: "See those guys playing dodgeball? That's THE HORDE. They push everybody around. They take our stuff. They kinda rule the school" (p. 16).
PERCY: "Dwayne Ferryman. He's with the horde. Those jerks shake me down every week.
ARTIE: Why doesn't the principal do something about them?
PERCY: Principal Dagger? Are you kidding? She's worse" (p. 17).
LUNCH LADIES: "Ham 'n cheese...and onion rings...'tis the locker of the king."
ARTIE: "Ok, how'd you know my last name?"
LUNCH LADIES: "Chicken patty...and macaroons...be forewarned, a battle looms" (pp. 36-37).
PERCY: "Ok, but if we win [at dodge ball], you have to leave us alone."
JOE: "And when we win, he shows me how to open this locker and I prove once and for all that I rule the school."
JOE: "You heard the geek! Dodge ball match, Friday after school, geeks against the horde, winners rule the school" (p. 52).
To Go with the Meal:
A teacher could pair Knights of the Lunch Table with a more traditional account of King Arthur or could explore the history behind the legend and the theories about who the actual Arthur was/may have been.
The book is excellent for discussion the very realistic concerns of going to a new school, deciding to be yourself, making friends and facing bullies. (Plus, the shares the truth that some girls are rock stars at dodgeball, so you have to let them play)
Tasty Rating: !!!