the graveyard book

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Neil Gaiman is a writer who wasn’t on my radar at all — until he was everywhere all at once.  His Newbery Medal win for The Graveyard Book quickly followed by the release of the film Coraline based on his book suddenly made him unavoidable online, in the print media, everywhere (including this blog).  But I quickly realized he’s not someone I want to avoid.  

Gaiman’s imagination seems, to me, to be unmatched.  Admittedly, I’ve never been an avid fantasy reader, so I can’t claim to be an expert of his genre.  But in my opinion, his talent lies not only in his ability to create a world, but also in his ability to convey it in manner that is both concrete enough for the reader to understand this world as he intends it to be, but vague enough for the reader’s imagination to take over in places.  It’s a fine line to walk, but one that he walks well. 

The Graveyard Book is the story of a boy who escapes a horrible fate only to find himself living a most peculiar one.  The book opens with a baby slipping out of his crib, down the stairs, and through the front door — a front door left ajar by the man Jack who has entered the house to kill the entire family.  The baby, unaware of the danger, toddles up a hill and into a graveyard, where the occupants take notice and, when the obviously-sinister Jack appears, shelter the boy from danger.  One resident in particular, Mrs. Owens, takes it upon herself to be this boy’s mother and protect him, and her husband, with a little urging (“Owens knew what his wife was thinking when she used that tone of voice.  They had not, in life and in death, been married for over two hundred and fifty years for nothing.”) agrees to be his father.  The mysterious Silas, who is neither alive nor dead and who can freely leave the graveyard, volunteers to be the boy’s guardian and is charged with the tasks of bringing him food and overseeing his education.  And the boy, who “looks like nobody but himself” was named Nobody Owens.  

The following chapters tell of Bod’s (as the boy is called) incredible adventures in the graveyard; the early ones read like individual stories as Bod meets a friend whose parents think he’s imaginary, as he stumbles through a ghoul-gate, as he dances the Macabre and attempts going to school and learns to Fade and Dreamwalk.  Appropriately, Gaiman’s portrayal of Bod becomes increasingly complex as the boy moves toward and into adolescence and becomes aware of how limited his world is.  He begins to question Silas about the danger that lies beyond the graveyard, and it is in the final chapters that Bod’s story comes full circle.  As Bod seeks answers and the man Jack reappears, the book becomes impossible to put down.  

As I said, Gaiman walks a fine line between creating the world for us and allowing us to complete the picture, which I appreciate not only as a reader but as an educator.  Interpreting and analyzing and visualizing and imagining — these are all skills that are incredibly valuable for children to build, and this is exactly the type of book that will help them do it.  I have no doubt that even reluctant readers will be engaged by Bod’s story, and as an habitual book-gifter, I imagine I will be wrapping this one up for the children in my life on a regular basis.  And maybe, on occasion, for a few adults as well…

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~ by Molly on March 9, 2009.

One Response to “the graveyard book”

  1. […] though I’m familiar with a number of the authors listed, I have read exactly one of these books. […]

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