Gaiman is a prolific, popular author. I have enjoyed many of his novels and was pleased to be able to include this one in my genre study and database. The Graveyard Book has garnered a lot of honors, including ALA Notable Children’s Book, Horn Book Fanfare, Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Book, Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choice, New York Public Library Stuff for the Teen Age, Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (Vermont), ALA Booklist Editors’ Choice, Newbery Medal, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and New York Public Library’s One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing (Retrieved July 19, 2009 from http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780060530921/The_Graveyard_Book/index.aspx)
Author: Neil Gaiman
ISBN-10: 0060530928 ISBN-13: 9780060530921
City and Publisher: New York: Harper Collins
Copyright Date: 2008
Author’s Website: http://www.neilgaiman.com/
Reader’s Annotation: As a toddler, Nobody Owens is the only member of his family to escape the deadly knife of the mysterious man Jack. He is taken in by the denizens of a local cemetery and, as the old saying goes, it takes a graveyard to raise a child, particularly when he grows into a teenager.
Plot Summary: As a toddler, Bod Owens wanders away to a local cemetery and thus is the only member of his family to escape from death at the hands of the man Jack. Its inhabitants take pity on him and decide to raise him, giving him the Freedom of the Graveyard: the ability to see in the dark, to Fade, to Haunt, and to wander anywhere in the cemetery he pleases. He is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, and Silas, a man who is neither living nor dead, becomes his guardian. While the cemetery has plenty for a growing boy to discover, the outside world holds lure of the living…and the threat of his family’s killer.
Critical Evaluation: The Graveyard Book tells an enticing story. Supernatural creatures and elements from folk tales and give it a familiar feel, as if it is a common story told to young children. Exposition is worked into the story, for example readers become aware that Bod is older in each chapter from the way the plot unfolds, rather than from being told. The characters are intriguing, and even the villain Jack has his own mystery, leaving the reader curious to know more.
Reading Level/Interest: Age 9 and up
Curriculum Ties: The Graveyard Book would be a great reward read for students finishing a unit on folktales.
Booktalking Ideas: Read the opening line from the book, “there was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.” Talk about Neil Gaiman as the author of the Sandman series and the books which inspired Stardust and Coraline. Then read the above plot summary.
Beasties and Supernatural Elements: Ghosts, Vampires, Werewolves, Ghouls, Witches Influences from Other Genres: Horror, Graphic Novel, Mythology and Folk Tale
Challenge Issues: On the very first page of The Graveyard Book are an illustration and the words “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” Despite the gruesome act of murder which is revealed on page six, despite the ghosts and ghouls that populate the graveyard, and despite the terrifying climax wherein Bod is chased by four Jacks out for blood, the book is not a violent one. Gaiman’s art is in the threat; gore is hinted at but never detailed. Readers with very vivid imaginations may still want to consider avoiding this book, but not because of any gratuitous gory details, because they do not exist.
Other Information: Readers who enjoy The Graveyard Book might also enjoy Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always, which is a similar type of illustrated novel that tells a story best summarized as a slightly more grown up version of Where the Wild Things Are. Barker’s illustrations and monsters follow the horror genre more closely and are more gruesome than The Graveyard Book.
About the Author: Neil Gaiman has written many works, encompassing prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics, and drama. He is well known by comics enthusiasts for the Sandman series and several of his books have been made into movies, including Stardust, a fantasy novel, and Coraline, a young adult paranormal book.