Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Over the past few years, though I’ve continued to look forward to the annual announcement of the Newbery winner, I have continually found myself disappointed. Those who know me have heard me rant about adults labeling certain children’s books as award worthy while most children couldn’t be paid to read those books. If a children’s book is one that children won’t read, is it really a children’s book.

This year’s Newbery was a pleasant surprise. It was not one I had heard of prior to the announcement. I had not read any of Neil Gaiman’s previous books, but his name was one with which I was familiar. When I started the book, I was skeptical. A children’s book that begins with the murder of almost an entire family just didn’t seem like a true children’s book. A child who lives in a graveyard and is raised by ghosts only he can see – again a little bit strange, to say the least.

However, Gaiman’s coming of age story about young Nobody Owens pulled me in and would not let go. At times, Nobody (Bod for short) seemed almost too good to be true. A boy that well behaved seemed almost beyond belief, but then he’d do something typically boyish and I’d realize despite his weird environment, he was just like many other young boys.

Though the book does begin with a cruel murder (the description is not graphic) and the boys is raised by ghosts and a pale guardian, “who is neither living nor dead,” it is not a scary story. Like many books that appeal to children, it is a story of the struggle between good and bad. The ghosts who look after Bod are rather like the house ghosts at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books.

I believe Audrey Niffenegger, author of “The Time Traveler’s Wife, says it very well: "It takes a graveyard to raise a child. My favorite thing about this book was watching Bod grow up in his fine crumbly graveyard with his dead and living friends. The Graveyard Book is another surprising and terrific book from Neil Gaiman.”

It’s about time we had a Newbery that both children and adults, but especially children can appreciate.

Check it out and let me know what you think.