The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Captain’s Log: Module 4

Port of Call: Gaiman, N. (2008). The Graveyard book. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

First Lines: There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife…

 

Cover of The Graveyard Book

Summary: An assassin has murdered a family sleeping in their beds, all except for the baby who likes to crawl out of his crib. Luckily, he has escaped the night of the murder, and toddled up the road to a nearby graveyard. The assassin is hunting for the child, but the citizens of the graveyard decide to protect him and raise him as their own. The boy is named Nobody, Bod for short, and is given the Freedom of the Graveyard, the ability to move as the dead do, and walk through walls, and more, so long as he remains within the graveyard’s walls.

The assassin is still looking for Bod though, and as the boy grows older and wonders more about the world outside the graveyard he finds himself wanting to explore outside his childhood home. Bod makes friends, but faces dangers too, and in the end he must face the killer who murdered his family.

First Impressions: I had not read any of Neil Gaiman’s works before, though I knew quite a bit about him as an author, since I follow his blog. I was not surprised at how well the story flowed, and I think also that this book managed to remain light-hearted and not particularly scary in spite of the grisly intro and the macabre setting.

Suggestions for use: This book is perfect for middle-schoolers and is already quite popular with many children that age. Wonderful reading for Halloween time, or for entertainment at any time. Many teachers talk about reading this book to their class with great success.

Reviews:

“With best-selling books for adults and children — including “Coraline,” a brand-new animated movie — Neil Gaiman has carved out a passionate following in the world of fairy tale and fantasy. Now his latest novel for children, “The Graveyard Book,” has won a top literary honor as well: this year’s Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature. After the prize was announced last month, a debate ensued among teachers, librarians and critics about whether the selection of a popular author was a departure for the Newbery, one of the most prestigious prizes in children’s books — and, if so, whether it was a welcome one. Gaiman himself seemed surprised by the honor. “There are books that are best sellers and books that are winners,” he said in an interview with The New York Times.

But none of this will matter to readers — for “The Graveyard Book,” by turns exciting and witty, sinister and tender, shows Gaiman at the top of his form.

The story opens with a pretty terrifying situation: a man has slaughtered a family in the middle of the night, all save a toddler who escapes unnoticed, walking out the front door and away from the mayhem. (Parents may worry about the violence, but they shouldn’t. The action isn’t described, and the fourth-grade class I read the book to had no problem whatsoever.)

Up the hill trots the toddler, to a graveyard full of ghosts who take him in. The tone shifts elegantly from horror to suspense to domesticity, and by the end of the first chapter Gaiman has established the graveyard as the story’s center. Within its reassuringly locked gates, the boy finds a safe and cozy place to grow up. (Gaiman has said that “The Jungle Book” was one of his influences.)

Among the dead are teachers, workers, wealthy prigs, romantics, pragmatists and even a few children — a village ready to raise a living child. And they do, ably led by Silas, an enigmatic character who is not really one of them, being not quite dead and not quite living. In this moonlit place, the boy — who is given the name Nobody Owens, or Bod for short — has adventures, makes friends (not all of them dead), and begins to learn about his past and consider his future. Along the way, he encounters hideous ghouls, a witch, middle school bullies and an otherworldly fraternal order that holds the secret to his family’s murder. When he is 12 things change, and the novel’s momentum and tension pick up as he learns why he’s been in the graveyard all this time and what he needs to do to leave.

While “The Graveyard Book” will entertain people of all ages, it’s especially a tale for children. Gaiman’s remarkable cemetery is a place that children more than anyone would want to visit. They would certainly want to look for Silas in his chapel, maybe climb down (if they were as brave as Bod) to the oldest burial chamber, or (if they were as reckless) search for the ghoul gate. Children will appreciate Bod’s occasional mistakes and bad manners, and relish his good acts and eventual great ones. The story’s language and humor are sophisticated, but Gaiman respects his readers and trusts them to understand.

I read the last of “The Graveyard Book” to my class on a gloomy day. For close to an hour there were the sounds of only rain and story. In this novel of wonder, Neil Gaiman follows in the footsteps of long-ago storytellers, weaving a tale of unforgettable ­enchantment.”

Edinger, M. (2009) New York Times book review of The Graveyard Book. Retrieved September 9th, 2010 from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/15/books/review/Edinger-t.html.

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