Today, for your reading pleasure, we have a guest post on book #80, The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. Heather, from The Capricious Reader, has so graciously offered to share her thoughts and love for this cherished children’s book. Be sure to check out her blog, too, as it is one of my favorites.
This is one of my absolute favorite books, so when Amber asked me to guest post about it (for her goal to read all of the Top 100 Children’s Books), I jumped at the chance to reach a whole new audience about it. I have read this book once and listened to the audiobook twice and will probably continue to do one or the other on a yearly basis for, well, the rest of my life. There are few books that fill me with pure, unadulterated delight and The Graveyard Book is high on the list.
It’s weird to say that a book where the most of the main characters are dead and populate an ancient, practically abandoned graveyard, but it was. The book opens to a frightening tableau; a man has slaughtered an entire family and is working his way up the stairs to kill the last member – the baby. (Don’t worry, the actions of the murderer, while understood, are not detailed.) That baby becomes Nobody Owens. He escapes to the local graveyard, where the residents, i.e. the dead, decide to keep him and raise him. You might think living in a graveyard would be cold, dank, and miserable, but in Gaiman’s world, it is cozy, warm, and fascinating. Bod learns the tricks of the trade as it were (basically, how to be a ghost) from his many neighbors and friends. He goes on many adventures, with the living and the dead (and the slightly in between). He makes friends. He looses them. He learns poetry. He learns history. He learns about witches. In some ways, this book is rather like a book of short stories, with one story arc that ties them all together and it makes for quick, enjoyable reading.
Bod is an endearingly little fella. From the first, in his diapers, he stole my heart. All his years in winding sheets, up until he gets his first clothes, going on adventure after adventure through the graveyard, I couldn’t help but adore him. I love all his friends of the graveyard. And Silas. Oh, Silas. You have to read the book to meet Silas; I can’t just give him away. Anyway. It’s so interested to see life through Bod’s eyes, and through the eyes of the dead who raise him. And with this story, Gaiman is at the peak of his game. The Graveyard Book is utterly enchanting, especially if you listen to the audio. The biggest accomplishment, to me, is the feeling reading this book gives me; that death is not something to be feared, it’s just another beginning. And, it is the sweet melancholia of (Bod’s and by turns, one’s own) growing up and leaving the nest to strike out on alone that pushes the novel into something special. Gaiman reads the audiobook and, wow, what a voice. His soft spoken British accent lends a magical air to what is already a magical story. If you read the book for yourself, Dave McKean’s amazing artwork lends a charming, yet spooky, atmosphere to the story. Either way, you are in for a treat.
On caveat however, while the murder is not detailed, the beginning is intense. I would exercise caution giving the book to anyone under ten, and I would probably only give it to a mature child ten or over. I can see where it would be scary, seeing as how a young boy’s entire family is murdered. Neil Gaiman said (and I paraphrase) that all stories (i.e. fairytales) have a bit of the sinister side to them. Remember that as you pick it up.
by Neil Gaiman
Originally published in 2008