Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – 2009 Newbery Award Winner

2009 Newbery Award Winner – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I realize I may be one of the last people to finish this book – my co-worker, Nieves, has been trying to get me to read it since it first came out (congratulations to her for reading a book before me and being the first to gush about it!) – but I finally finished it last night and so am here to tell you all about it.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Hardcover: 9780060530921 $17.99

Great book! Am thrilled it won the award! Enough said!

(he he, just kidding)

Honestly, though, it was a great read. Completely engaging; kids are going to love this Newbery. (Unlike winners of previous years, and the rather recent discussions about the lack of kid street cred given to those winners…hmmm…I wonder if that influenced a decision at all?)

The Graveyard Book grabs you from the first moment and maintains a steady interest throughout the story. What’s fascinating, and is one of the reasons Gaiman is such a genius, is that it’s a rather morbid, even slightly horrific base story, yet the book is not a scary read. Perhaps this is because Bod – Nobody Owens, the main character – seems to know no fear.

Barely escaping murder as an infant (by the nefarious Jack, of the notorious Jack-of-all-Trades organization), Bod has been raised by ghosts and his guardian Silas (not alive but not dead), in the Old Town graveyard. Bod grows up, having all sorts of wonderful and peculiar adventures, mostly in his graveyard: like visiting the Indigo Man – the oldest being buried in the graveyard; learning about ghouls, ghoul-gates, and night-gaunts, first-hand; making friends with witches; and being taught various lessons by long-dead ghosts and a werewolf. On the few occasions he ventures outside of the graveyard – to run away, to go to school, to find out more about his family’s murder – the world is not a safe place for him and he ends up getting into tricky situations.

Even in these various scrapes, Bod keeps his cool, and uses his wits to outsmart everyone from the ghouls to the Jacks. An interesting plot thread, to me, was Bod’s complete willingness and interest in ridding the world of the threat of the man who had killed his parents. Even before the climactic confrontation scene, you get the sense that this doesn’t necessarily mean Bod is looking forward to killing Jack, or engaging him in any sort of fight, really, yet he is determined to get rid of him. The ingenious way Bod accomplishes this is a masterful stroke of tying in plot points and making use of Bod’s unique character.

The end of the book itself is filled with hope. This may sound odd for a book which takes place primarily among the dead, but it seems that having grown up with the dead gives Bod a special appreciation for actually living life to its fullest. Have to admit, I’m kind of hoping for a sequel – Bod in the world. Somehow, though I’ve closed last page, I haven’t quite closed my thoughts on Bod’s adventures.

End of review.

So, I have to admit a total lack of knowledge regarding copy write laws.

I want to include in this post an interview with Neil Gaiman that was published in ShelfAwarness.
It was published in the Thursday, January 29th, 2009, Vol. 1, Issue 848, issue.
Here is the link to that issue of Shelf Awareness, and here is the article itself:

Neil Gaiman: ‘Children’s Fiction Can Change the World’

Neil Gaiman is having a good week. On Monday morning, in the midst of promoting the movie inspired by his book Coraline, which releases February 6, he received a phone call from Rose Trevino, chair of the Newbery committee. The Graveyard Book had won the 2009 Newbery Medal. Gaiman has called the novel a twist on Kipling’s The Jungle Book, except that hero Nobody Owens is “somebody who gets raised by dead people” instead of animals, and “Bod” is mentored by a man called Silas, who is not quite like the other ghosts.

All day long in Denver on Monday, librarians were twittering about Gaiman’s tweets of “delighted swearing,” as he puts it in his blog. You may follow his tweets on, his blog entry of the Newbery call, and watch him reading aloud The Graveyard Book (Gaiman is especially pleased with the crowd’s reaction midway through chapter 7, “Every Man Jack,” where he had to stop at a cliffhanger). Tuesday, he appeared on the Today Show. Shelf Awareness spoke with Gaiman yesterday while he was en route to the airport to fly back to Los Angeles.

If memory serves, you wrote Coraline late at night, about 20 minutes at a clip, at the same time that you were writing American Gods.

That’s very true. I started it many years before, the idea was this was the project I was doing “on my own time,” and then we moved to America, and I ran out of “my own time”–it no longer existed. I sent [what I had] to my editor, Jennifer Hershey, and she said, “It’s amazing, what happens next?” And I said, “Why don’t you send me a contract, and we’ll both find out.” And she did, bless her. But the problem was I didn’t have any more time, so I decided that instead of
reading 10 pages before bed, I’d write half a page. I started [Coraline] for Holly, who’s now 23, and finished it for Maddy, and she’s now 14.

Was Coraline your first book for children?

It was my first novel for children, technically, but in reality when I was 20 or 21, I wrote my very first book, and it was a children’s book. I sent it, I think, to Penguin, and they wrote back with an encouraging note, I put it in the attic and forgot about it. After Coraline and Wolves [The Wolves in the Walls] came out I was reading to my daughter Maddy every night and I remember I went to the attic, found it, read it to Maddy, and then put it back in the attic where it will stay until I’m dead.

You’ve said The Graveyard Book was inspired by your then 18-month-old son riding his tricycle in your neighborhood cemetery. Was there a specific gate in that cemetery that inspired the ghoul-gate?

The ghoul-gate was inspired by a grave I found in Cornwall about two-and-a-half years ago. I’d taken a little cottage with no wireless, no Internet, and I wrote [chapters] two and three there, “The New Friend” and “The Hounds of God.” In the little town of Redroof, I drove past a cemetery and wandered around, and there was one grave that was funghoid–it had a statue, but the statue no longer looked like an angel but rather like a giant fungus. There was a crack down
the middle as if something had been trying to get out; it looked like an opening to somewhere. The line wandered through my head, “There’s a ghoul-gate in every graveyard.”

I loved that Silas tells Bod that he was worse than Bloody Jack (the man who murdered Bod’s family), yet Silas is completely sympathetic. Did you name him for Silas Marner?

I don’t think so. Some characters turn up with names, and some don’t–the ones who don’t, you spend an awfully long time worrying about their names. The boy in the graveyard was someone I’d wondered about for 20-odd years. Then I ran into that line, “Rattle his bones/Over the stones/ It’s only a pauper/ Who nobody owns.” Whereas Silas was Silas from the moment he walked onto the page.

Before Monday morning, did you know what a Newbery Medal was?

Oh of course! When I was eight years old maybe I picked up my Puffin copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and I loved it enough that it registered as a Newbery. In the years that followed, I read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh; From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Lloyd Alexander’s The Prydain Chronicles, because they won the Newbery. So yes, I never imagined it would be an award that it would be my lot to ever take home. I’m awed by it.

So what do you think about children’s books?

They’re terrible; they should be banned. What kind of question is that? I think they’re wonderful. When I was a kid, I was a kid with a book. As far as I was concerned, had you asked me at the age of seven what the most important things in the world are, I’d probably say the first six Narnia books, the first three Mary Poppins books. . . . Had I discovered The Hobbit yet? Not yet. The books that took pride of place on my shelves were Stig of the Dump by Clive King, Tales of Ancient Egypt by Roger Lancelyn Green. I was the kind of kid who, during my summer holidays, would persuade my parents to drop me off at the library in the morning, and I’d spend my day there. Sometimes I’d pack a lunch. At 6:30 when they closed, I’d walk home.

Children’s fiction, for me back then, was the most important thing there is. It has a holy place and position that adult fiction doesn’t have. Adult fiction is a wonderful thing and enriching to the soul and mind, and it takes you to great places. But children’s fiction can change the world and give you a refuge from the intolerable. It can give you a place of safety and show you the world is not bounded by the world you live in–there’s more than that.–Jennifer M. Brown

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