I never considered manners to be of any real importance until I had kids. Or before I started working the reference desk. Adults tend to be a bit lazy, after all. We say "uh-huh" and we grunt and generally we manage to communicate and not offend too many people regardless. But kids - kids don't know that the "please" is supposed to be there and so they don't apply that deferential vocal inflection or body language or one of the ingratiating facial expressions that adults can use as shortcuts around saying "please." They are unschooled in the "thank you" nod-and-smile.
No, they aren't born knowing these things. It takes constant drilling. CONSTANT. DRILLING. I have only been a mom for about nine and a half years, but I am sure that I've spent 4 and a half of those years with my kids lined up out on the parade ground. "What's the best way to get a person's attention?!" "Don't interrupt!" "It's not a race!" "What do you say?!" "Cover your mouth!" "Look at the person you're speaking to!" "Excuse me!" Oy.
But it's worth it. You ever meet one of those precious tykes who wanders up, kicks you in the shin to get your attention, and then declares, "I'm thirsty!"? Yeah. As far as I'm concerned that kid can get a drink from the hose. Now, it's a cinch that not everyone is as mean as I am, but all the same, I do not want my kids to have to drink from the hose. And so it's my job - mine and Bob's - to teach them how - and why - to be polite.
During the time of Camelot, apparently that job fell to King Arthur. You like my transition there? Oh yeah. SUAVE. I spent my afternoon judging short fiction and poetry written by middle school students for a statewide literature contest, and I've developed a new appreciation for unsubtle prose. The breakneck transition, the melodramatic crisis point, the moral that stomped all the way through the text in order to assert itself vociferously at the end. Bring it on, my babies. In one of those stories, the protagonists messed up the world so profoundly that half of humanity had tails at the end. That kid is going far.
Where was I? Oh jeez, Arthur. Arthur has a job in front of him, as the Knights of the Round Table are still getting used to the idea that "might makes right" is no longer the rule of the day. Gawain rescues a damsel from a dragon (sensibly wondering what on earth a dragon might want with a damsel), only to brush off her thanks and ride away, leaving her stranded in the forest. When Arthur hears this, he executes a classic *facepalm* and wearily helps Gawain figure out what he might have done better.
This is an adorable little book, third, I think, in a series (the cover of the first is pictured below). I am always so happy to find a book that bridges from Magic Tree House into longer chapter books - it's a delicate point for a kid. You want to find books interesting and entertaining enough to tempt the critter out of the First Chapter shelves, but not so long or serious-looking that they will intimidate our gentle reader.
These Knights Tales are perfect. Not only do they fit the bill developmentally, but they are so appealing, with their wacky old-fashioned-y illustrations by Aaron Renier (The Unsinkable Walker Bean, Spiral-Bound) and humorous appellations. Sir Givret the Short? Sir Gandefere the Nearly Undefeated? AND, as if that weren't enough, they serve as a gateway to that richly scenic path that may eventually lead a young reader to The Once and Future King.
Authors who write good middle grade and YA fiction - like Gerald Morris - and then write their own lead-in books are, in my opinion, savvy, talented, and considerate. Meg Cabot does this with Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls - she knows that fourth grade girls wanted to read Princess Diaries but weren't allowed because of all the frenching. So she wrote frenching-free funny girlie fiction to get those middle grade girls all set for the YA stuff. Nikki Grimes writes all the way down to First Chapter - kids who have enjoyed Dyamonde Daniel will transition into The Road to Paris with less fuss.
Meanwhile, the Green Knight teaches Sir Gawain a little about courtesy in an entertainingly twisty, funny little tale, reminding my second grader to ask instead of taking and causing me to Netflix The Sword in the Stone for my kids.