Review of "The Graveyard Book"

Review by Catherine Baty

Gaiman, N., & McKean, D. (2008). The Graveyard Book. [audiobook]

In the middle of the night a man breaks into a house and murders a father, mother and daughter. When he gets to the baby’s room, he finds it missing. The toddler makes his way to the nearby graveyard, where, after a deliberation it is decided that the baby, now called Nobody “Bod” Owens, will be given the Freedom of the Graveyard and be raised by the ghosts, Mr. and Mrs. Owens. Silas, the guardian of the graveyard, agrees to help, as he is the only one who can leave the graveyard, by getting things from the outside world as Bod needs them. Some years later Bod makes a friend, Scarlett. Together, they learn about the oldest grave in the graveyard. Bod goes deep into the oldest grave, he learns about the SLEER, an invisible un-numberable thing which guards the grave’s simple treasures, a brooch, a cup and a stone knife. After this discovery, Silas leaves to get information. In his place he leaves Miss. Lupescu an odd, older woman who insists on teaching Bod in lists. Soon Bod is kidnapped by ghouls and is taken through the Ghoul Gate. Remebering his lesson from Miss Lupescu, he is able to call for her help. Years pass, and Bod attempts a normal school, but he draws too much attention when he goes up against some bullies, but his education is continued in other ways. When Scarlett finds herself back in the graveyard after 10 years of living in Scotland, she finds herself remembering her old friend, Bod. They reunite and are soon investigating the murder of Bod’s first family. Their investigation comes to a head when Mr. Frost, a historian studying the graveyard finds a letter in what used to be the home of Bod’s family. When it turns out that Mr. Frost is the original murder, Jack, and a member of a secret order, a chase ensues through the graveyard. Bod is able to hide Scarlett in the oldest grave and dispatches Jack’s cohorts. Jack, knowing that he would not be able to find Bod in the graveyard, goes after Scarlett. There, he makes a mistake, leaving Bod and Scarlett with their lives, but him without. Silas takes Scarlett back to her mother, remembering nothing. As Bod’s 15th birthday nears, he finds himself more and more unable to speak with the ghosts. Now that he is grown, he must live his own life. The book ends with Bod being sent off with a suitcase, a passport, and money to start a life.

This unabridged mp3 audiobook was read by Neil Gaiman. The sound quality was excellent at any volume. Gaiman is an experienced reader and because he is the writer, he has the background knowledge necessary to read the book the way it is meant to be heard. Hearing authors read their own material is a gift, especially the way that Gaiman does it. His enunciation is clear that even when sped up the listener is able to understand every word. There was no background noise or static to distract from the reading. A nice touch was the music between each chapter. It provided a nice break, since each chapter is like its own separate story about Bod’s life. Gaiman used different voices for all the characters, using different tones, accents, and speed to help the listener differentiate. The recording had no front or back matter, but it was not missed. The listening experience as a whole was perfect. Gaiman kept a good pace and made the listening experience totally engrossing. I wasn’t ready for the book to end. Gaiman’s characters are made real by his descriptions, and his use of voice adds depth and understanding. Even though this is a fantasy novel, everything that happens feels plausible and the listener’s suspension of disbelief remains intact. This is vital to any fiction writing, but is particularly noticeable  when mishandled in fantasy and science fiction writings. Gaiman makes a world of ghosts, ghouls and other supernatural creatures seem like an every-day part of life. As suspected in a book titled, The Graveyard Book, setting is important. Somehow Gaiman turns a spooky, ancient graveyard into a warm place. Family, friends and love are found there. These are also themes throughout the story. Though his upbringing is unique, as Bod grows up, he learns lessons that readers of all ages will relate to. He disobeys and gets into trouble, he has problems with school and deals with bullies, he even makes and loses a friend. These common experiences will help to endear readers to the more extraordinary aspects of Bod’s life. Gaiman’s style is eternally hopeful, this is encapsulated in the last line of the book, “But between now and then, there was Life; and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.” I haven’t read much of Gaiman’s writing, but this book encourages me to look deeper into his repertoire. I can’t wait to read more.

Newbery Medal 2009
ALA Notable Children’s Book
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (Vermont)
Chicago Tribune Young Adult Literary Prize (for body of work)
IndieBound Award
Horn Book Honor
Burr Worzolla Award
Midwest Booksellers Choice Award
Locus Award (Young Adult)
Hugo Award – “Best Novel”
Booktrust Teenage Prize

“Gaiman has created a rich, surprising, and sometimes disturbing tale of dreams, ghouls, murderers, trickery, and family.” – Megan Honig, School Library Journal on October 1, 2008

“An elegant combination of Gaiman’s masterly storytelling and McKean’s lovely drawings, this book also works as a series of independent but connected short stories set two years apart, following Bod from age two to 16.” – Angelina Benedetti, Library Journal – web only on December 9, 2008

“Childhood fears take solid shape in the nursery-rhyme-inspired villains, while heroism is its own, often bitter, reward. Closer in tone to American Gods than to Coraline, but permeated with Bod’s innocence, this needs to be read by anyone who is or has ever been a child.” – Contributor, Kirkus Reviews starred on August 15, 2008

Gather with the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collection and have each student select a story to tell to the class.

  • Schwarts, Alvin and Stephen Gammell Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark ISBN 9780062961280
  • Schwarts, Alvin and Stephen Gammell More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark ISBN 9780062682857
  • Schwarts, Alvin and Stephen Gammell Scary Stories 3 More Tales to Chill Your Bones ISBN 9781536427929

Choose a few chapters to listen to the audiobook or audioplay in class. Have the students draw illustrations for those parts to aid in understanding.

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