The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)


What would you do if your parents were ghosts? How would you survive if you were confined to a graveyard? Bod Owens is a boy who was orphaned and subsequently adopted by an entire graveyard. The Graveyard Book tells the stories of Bod's adventures growing up in the graveyard and how he was raised by this village of ghosts. As Bod grows, he learns more and more about the murder of his first family as well as the darker forces that are at work around him. Through lots of adventure and surprising characters, Bod is eventually able to play the role he wants in helping protect his family of ghosts.
As with every other book purchase, I always carefully select new materials for my school library. Among many other things, I consult literature review sources, I preview the material if possible, I weigh in the amount of curricular support the books offers, and I also consider any awards the book has won. This book was the 2009 John Newbery Award winner for outstanding contribution to children's/young adult literature. Most Newbery books are a bit set apart, but then any book that wins a world class award would have to be different from the cookie cutter novels of the day. This one is no exception. The Graveyard Book passed all my selection criteria with flying colors and so I added it to my most recent book order...but I'll have to confess that during the first chapter I almost regretted it.
The tone and language of the book is not graphic or threatening, but in the opening chapter of the book Bod's mother, father, and sister are murdered. The first voice we hear is that of their killer ("the man Jack") and his longing to wipe out this family. I had a problem with exposing my kiddos to such dark evil. It wasn't blood and gore, but it was enough to make me think, "Can my 5th graders handle this?" As I turned that concept over and over in my mind, I've talked with other school librarians who've also read the material. One reminded me that this scene was no different than the Goosebumps series that they all seem to love (actually, those might be worse because they ARE gory), and so I read on.
I'm still concerned about the opening scene, and I will take caution to prepare the kids for that, BUT...it stays in my collection, and here's why:
-Without Bod becoming an orphan, this story would not be possible. Children who are orphans always become so through some tragic circumstances.
-The voice of "the man Jack" is not the main one in this story. He's the bad guy, but there is more good than bad here. If nothing, this book has a classic good vs. evil theme. Had Jack's evil narrative been projected throughout the tale, it would be a much darker, and scarier, book.
-This is a GREAT story. Much like To Kill a Mockingbird, there are lots of small tidbits about the life and culture of this setting that come back to play critical roles in the conclusion of the book (and ultimate triumph of good). It's filled with memorable characters, learning experiences, and Bod, who teaches that doing the right thing is always worth it.
-This is the 2009 NEWBERY medal winner. Those aren't picked out of a hat.
-My friend is right. This is much lighter than all those Goosebumps books my kids gobble up like literature candy.