Coraline by Neil Gaiman - Newbery Medal Winner

Coraline by Neil Gaiman - Book Cover
Coraline by Neil Gaiman. HarperCollins

Summary of Coraline

Coraline by Neil Gaiman is a weird and delightfully scary fairy tale / ghost story. I call it "delightfully scary" because while it grips the reader's attention with creepy happenings that may cause a case of the shivers, it is not the kind of scary book that lead to nightmares of the "it could happen to me" kind. The story revolves around the very strange experiences Coraline has when she and her parents move into an apartment in an old house.

Coraline must save herself and her parents from the evil forces that threaten them. I recommend Coraline by Neil Gaiman for ages 8-12.

Coraline: The Story

The idea behind Coraline can be found in the quotation by C.K. Chesterton that precedes the beginning of the story: "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten."

This short novel tells the amazing, and creepy, tale of what happens when a girl named Coraline and her parents move into an apartment on the second floor of a very old house. Two elderly retired actresses live on the ground floor and an old, and quite strange, man who says he is training a mouse circus, lives in the flat above Coraline's family.

Coraline's parents are frequently distracted and don't pay a lot of attention to her, the neighbors keep pronouncing her name incorrectly, and Coraline is bored.

In the course of exploring the house, Coraline discovers a door that opens onto a brick wall. Her mother explains that when the house was divided into apartments, the doorway was bricked up between their apartment and "the empty flat on the other side of the house, the one that's still for sale."

Strange sounds, shadowy creatures in the night, cryptic warnings from her neighbors, a scary reading of tea leaves and the gift of a stone with a hole in it because it's "good for bad things, sometimes," are all rather unsettling.

However, it's when Coraline opens the door to the brick wall, finds the wall gone, and walks into the supposedly empty apartment that things get really strange and frightening.

The apartment is furnished. Living in it are a woman who sounds much like Carline's mother and introduces herself as Coraline's "other mother" and Coraline's "other father." Both have button eyes, "big and black and shiny." While initially enjoying the good food and attention, Coraline finds more and more to worry her. Her other mother insists they want her to stay forever, her real parents disappear, and Coraline quickly realizes that it will be up to her to save herself and her real parents.

The story of how she copes with her "other mother" and the strange versions of her real neighbors, how she helps and gets helped by three young ghosts and a talking cat, and how she frees herself and rescues her real parents by being brave and resourceful is dramatic and exciting. While the pen and ink illustrations by Dave McKean are appropriately creepy, they are not really necessary. Neil Gaiman does a superb job of painting pictures with words, making it easy for readers to visualize each scene.

Neil Gaiman

In 2009, author Neil Gaiman won the John Newbery Medal for excellence in young people's literature for his middle grade fantasy novel The Graveyard Book.

To learn more about Gaiman, who is known for his , read the following two articles: Profile of Neil Gaiman and Profile of Literary Rock Star Neil Gaiman.

Coraline: My Recommendation

I recommend Coraline for 8- to 12-year-olds. Although the main character is a girl, this tale will appeal to both boys and girls who enjoy weird and scary (but not too scary) tales. Because of all of the dramatic happenings, Coraline is also a good read-aloud for 8- to 12-year-olds. Even if your child is not frightened by the book, the movie version may be a different story, so take a look at the review of the movie Coraline. It will help you decide whether your child should watch it.