The Graveyard Book
Based on 26 reviews
Based on 36 reviews
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Medal in 2009, the most coveted award in children's literature in the United States. This is a review of the novel that has some black-and-white drawings by Dave McKean. The Graveyard Book is also available as two superb graphic novels released in 2014. The story begins with the murder of an entire family except a toddler named Bod, with little described beyond the knife used and where the bodies were in the house. From then on, the story follows Bod growing up. It's mostly set in a graveyard, and most of the characters are benevolent ghosts. Ghouls are not so nice, however. They kidnap Bod and threaten to eat him. He's also threatened by bullying kids and nearly arrested. Someone is hit by a car, a man is poisoned and knocked out, and fights ensue with knives, strangling cords, and guns drawn, with injuries. Pains are taken not to kill the villains, but one character is consumed by a giant snakelike creature. Expect some scares past the ghoul-gate with howling creatures in pursuit and in a deep, dark grave where a creature threatens two young kids; the kids decide not to be afraid and the tension dissipates. Other content is pretty mild: "damn" and "bloody" are said rarely, and two men drink gin. Bod gets some lovely advice from his mother in a song at the end: "Face your life/ Its pain, its pleasure/ Leave no path untaken." There are reminders throughout the story of what's missing in Bod's life living among the dead and what life has to offer him in the future, including a chance to explore, make connections, and make his mark on the world.
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What's the Story?
In THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, a toddler wanders away from his house without knowing that his family has all been killed. A man with a knife is still in pursuit when the boy reaches a graveyard. The dead inhabitants decide to take him in and provide him with the magical protection of the graveyard. They give him the name Nobody, Bod for short, a ghost couple adopts him, and a man named Silas who's able to move among the living agrees to be his guardian and get him food and clothes and other necessities from the outside world. Years pass and Bod grows up mostly in secret. The few times he ventures into the outside world, danger awaits. A man tries to steal a grave's treasure, and at school bullying kids seek their revenge. And somewhere out there, biding his time, is the man with the knife. Will Bod ever be free to experience the outside world?
Is It Any Good?
This graveyard-set, ghost-filled award-winner is more touching than scary, and just as much a coming-of-age story as it is a delightful and sumptuous horror-fantasy. We see Bod grow from toddler to 15-year-old ready for the world. He experiences all the growing pains of regular childhood along with some unique dangers like kidnappings through ghoul gates and barrows with cursed Anglo-Saxon treasure. He's got a stellar guardian in Silas, a towering undead character depicted by Dave McKean's expressive line drawings almost like he's hovering over the consecrated ground in long black robes. Silas would be truly scary if he wasn't full of wisdom and patience for Bod's many questions and concerns. Their many conversations are full of meaning, especially when Bod asks questions that most kids not raised in a graveyard wouldn't even think of at such a young age. When Silas explains to Bod about suicide, Bod asks, "Are they happier dead?" Silas' answer is, "Sometimes. Mostly, no. It's like the people who believe they'll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, who learn it doesn't work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you."
On to the sumptuous horror-fantasy world of The Graveyard Book. Two chapters stand out as master classes in compelling fantasy writing: "The Hounds of God" and "Danse Macabre." "The Hounds of God" depicts Bod's most dangerous misadventure, traveling through a ghoul-gate with hungry ghouls. It's two parts creepy, one part ridiculous. The ghouls have names like the Duke of Westminster and the 33rd President of the United States, and they swing Bod around like hyper monkeys. Bod's rescue is satisfying and unexpected. In "Danse Macabre," Old Town and the graveyard are in a trance when rare flowers bloom. The living and the dead come together in a joyous way for just one night. The storytelling is all mystery and atmosphere and wonder. When fantasy is all those things it deserves to win all the great awards, just as The Graveyard Book has done.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about scares in The Graveyard Book. When Bod heads to the barrow with Scarlett, how do they handle the dark and the scary creature within? How does it speak to how Bod is raised, around beings that would normally frighten living people?
This book proves a story with ghosts and ghouls and the undead can also be extremely touching. And the connections that Bod has to a cranky witch and a strict Hound of God are some of the sweetest. What other characters in the story were you unexpectedly drawn to like? Can you think of other stories where characters you're sure you won't like end up being some of your favorites?
Have you read the graphic novel versions of The Graveyard Book as well? If so, which did you read first? Which version do you like better? What do graphic novels offer that a sparsely illustrated book doesn't? Is there anything taken away?
- Author: Neil Gaiman
- Illustrator: Dave McKean
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Friendship, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Character Strengths: Courage, Curiosity
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
- Publication date: September 30, 2008
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 312
- Available on: Paperback, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: October 18, 2022
Our Editors Recommend
The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volume 1
Gorgeous adaptation catches all the magic of original novel.
Strange, surreal tale sure to creep kids out.
The Sleeper and the Spindle
Sly combo of two fairy tales makes for literary magic.
For kids who love horror and ghost stories
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