The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - book cover
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Newbery Medal Winner. HarperCollins

The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman received the prestigious John Newbery Medal  for The Graveyard Book, which captures readers with its elegant prose, unique story line, and haunting characters. Murder, a graveyard on a hill, ghosts, and a boy named Bod. A classic and contemporary blend of horror and supernatural elements come together in this unconventional coming of age story by the inimitable Neil Gaiman for upper middle grade readers.

  However, The Graveyard Book is not for those who dislike horror stories or who get frightened easily. (See the Cautionary Note below).

Story Line

A graveyard of ghosts and a mysterious man who is neither living nor dead undertake to raise a baby boy when he toddles into their graveyard one misty night. Now, years later, the young boy named Nobody Owens wants to know more about the world outside of the graveyard and about the man who killed his family.

Begged by the spirit of the boy’s dead mother to protect her son, graveyard resident Mrs. Owens agrees to care for the baby and receives permission for her and Mr. Owens to adopt the human child. Mr. and Mrs. Owens decide to name their only son “Nobody,” calling him “Bod” for short, and with the help of other graveyard residents set out to educate and protect him. Granted the Freedom of the Graveyard, Bod can see all supernatural creatures (including ghouls), can fade away as to not be seen by other humans, and can see in the dark.

His guardian Silas, a member of the Honor Guard who walks between the living and the dead, brings Bod a bag of food each night. Bod thrives in his graveyard home, but as he grows older he begins to ask more questions about his past and with increasing suspicion senses the differences between himself and his otherworldly family.

Bod’s awareness of these differences brings about a yearning to venture outside the graveyard and experience life among other humans. However, Silas refuses permission on the grounds that Bod’s only protection is within the graveyard. Bod, resenting his guardian’s and his parent’s strict rules, decides to rebel.

In series of events that take him beyond the graveyard’s shielding gates, Bod learns about the Sleer who guard ancient treasure, participates in a Macabre celebration, runs into trouble with the local police, plays mind games with some school bullies, and unwittingly falls into a deadly trap while uncovering the truth about his family’s murder.

In a suspenseful, climactic build-up, Bod relies on his graveyard education to battle an ancient order of evil, and the willful little boy must ultimately become a young man ready to experience the realities of a world beyond the graveyard.

Author Neil Gaiman

Master storyteller Neil Gaiman, born November 10, 1960 in Hampshire, England, began his writing career as a journalist. Crossing genres and writing for a variety of audiences, Gaiman has found success writing children’s picture books, screenplays, graphic novels, adult novels, and middle grade fiction.

Besides The Graveyard Book, one of Gaiman’s other best-known middle grade books is Coraline. A movie version of Coraline came out in 2009.

Gaiman, a fan of horror and science fiction, read avidly as a child and spent many hours in libraries. He credits his writing inspiration to many authors including Ursula LeGuin, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Edgar Allen Poe. Gaiman also acknowledges the many librarians whom he states, “fostered his life-long love of reading.” Gaiman currently lives in the United States. (Source: Author’s Website)

For more about the author, read Profile of Neil Gaiman and Profile of Literary Rock Star Neil Gaiman.

Awards

The Graveyard Book is an award-winning book on two continents. Neil Gaiman won the 2009 John Newbery Medal for the book from ALSC. The Newbery Medal is the highest honor awarded for children’s literature in the United States.

In 2010, the United Kingdom honored the book with the Carnegie Medal, the UK’s highest honor for outstanding children’s literature. Gaiman is the only author to win these two honors for the same book. (Source: Author’s Website)

My Recommendation

Check out this fabulous first line: “There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.” Gaiman’s brilliant text jumps out from a dark page alongside Dave McKean’s black and white illustration of a lone hand wielding a bone handled knife. Instant hook! And readers are skillfully drawn into the suspenseful mood as they follow the murderer Jack up the stairs to claim his final victim: a baby boy. This appealing combination of sparse text and shadowy illustration is an irresistible lure for readers who are fascinated by the mysterious and the macabre.

Cautionary Note: While many readers find Gaiman’s opening chapter exciting and original, other readers may be disturbed and/or frightened by the illustration and subject matter. The author excludes vivid details about a murder in progress, but a child sensitive to issues about violent death might find this portion of the book difficult to read.

Besides having a gift for establishing mood and setting, Gaiman reveals himself to be adept at inserting comic relief. Who would have thought a story based on a family’s murder and set in a graveyard would have elements of comedy: ghouls named after famous politicians and writers, ghosts who bicker and find fault with one another, and school bullies who receive lessons on the real meaning of fear. Weaving lighter moments with the darker plot line of a murdered family and a murderer bent on finishing the task he started fifteen years earlier, Gaiman creates a story that is original, endearing, sentimental, and compassionate.

The Graveyard Book is a unique coming of age tale about a young boy raised in most unusual circumstances who learns that love and happiness are not limited to the earth bound. Haunting, sweet, funny, suspenseful, and wise this is a story that will linger long in your thoughts.

I highly recommend this book for readers 10-up. (HarperCollins, 2008. ISBN: 9780060530921) The Graveyard Book is also available in paperback (ISBN: 9780060530945) and e-book editions.