Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman's books. He can create the most fascinating, dynamic, unique worlds. I have read all of his adult books. But I am not as enamored of his children's literature. I feel it is a bit dark (who am I kidding, it's really dark). I liked Coraline as a story, but it is not something I have given either of my kids and probably won't for some time. So, it was with trepidation that I picked up The Graveyard Book. I was surprised when I found out it had won the Newberry Medal - the highest honor a children's book can receive in the United States.

I will admit to being pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed Gaiman's story. While dark - the premise is that a young boy's family is killed and he is raised by ghosts in a graveyard to protect him from the murderer - the story is not graphic or scary or otherwise inappropriate for a children's story. Yes there is suspense and there is implicit violence, but there is nothing over the top (a phrase I could frequently use with Gaiman).

One of the reasons I liked this book was the way Gaiman put the chapters together. There is a clear overarching story that follows from the beginning to the end. But each chapter is episodic. You could read an individual chapter as a complete story - a point Gaiman makes about his own book. In fact, the chapter about the witch was originally published as an independent short story. When reading to kids, having a complete story is a nice touch.

Another feature is Gaiman's incredible creativity and novel way of seeing the world. His ghosts resemble characters in other literature, but they all have a Gaiman twist which keeps them original and engaging. His perceptions of death and the afterlife while familiar are not overly dark if a kid were reading the story.

Possibly an odd aside, but the copy I read included Gaiman's Newberry acceptance speech which was amazing. It had Gaiman's wry humor, a respectful amount of humility, but also a poignancy. Gaiman reminded his readers/listeners that great literature to a child is nothing more than a book that creates an escape. What we read as kids doesn't ever have to win awards or even be memorable five years down the road so long as it creates a world to explore.

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