Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Review: The Graveyard Book

A Book Review of: 

Image from
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Review of the book and audiobook (which is narrated by Neil Gaiman himself)


The story begins with a sinister man called Jack creeping into a house and murdering a family, while a baby silently slips out and makes his way up a hill toward a still graveyard. The man Jack follows the baby, intent on finishing the family off, but the inhabitants of the graveyard protect him. The baby, now called Bod (short for "Nobody"), grows up in the graveyard, raised and educated by ghosts and by Silas, a grim reaper-like character who serves as Bod's greatest mentor, and who is the only one who leaves the graveyard. The story is told in short stories and follows him as he grows up, growing more and more restless to have human companions and eventually befriending a girl named Scarlett briefly before she moves away. Throughout the story, Jack, who is part of a secret villainous society of Jacks, is still looking for Bod-- the one who escaped him. The story culminates with Bod facing off in the graveyard with the top members of the society of Jacks. 

Gaiman, N. (2008). The graveyard book. New York NY: HarperCollins.
Gaiman, N. (2008). The graveyard book [Audio recording]. New York, NY: Harper Children's Audio.


From the very first chapter, this book grips you and doesn't let go until you're done. As my first Neil Gaiman book, I'm incredibly impressed at his ability to take a dark and creepy story, but make it accessible and plausible, while still within a world of complete fantasy. It's beautifully written-- and the audiobook, narrated by the author himself, adds a new dimension to the story much as the illustrations do to the printed version.  Saint-Saëns' "Danse Macabre" plays in between chapters and during one chapter where the ghosts leave their graveyard and dance with the local villagers for one day out of the year.  Incorporating other mythology leaves the reader (or listener) with a sense of familiarity with the story that makes it easy to follow, but his perspective on the story is new and refreshing. It wasn't until after reading professional reviews for the book that I learned that The Graveyard Book is a variation on Kipling's The Jungle Book-- no wonder it feels so familiar. For this spectacularly imaginative book, Neil Gaiman won the 2009 Newbery Award.

Professional Reviews: 

From Kirkus' Reviews: 
"Wistful, witty, wise—and creepy. Gaiman’s riff on Kipling’s Mowgli stories never falters, from the truly spine-tingling opening, in which a toddler accidentally escapes his family’s murderer, to the melancholy, life-affirming ending. Bod (short for Nobody) finds solace and safety with the inhabitants of the local graveyard, who grant him some of the privileges and powers of the dead—he can Fade and Dreamwalk, for instance, but still needs to eat and breathe. Episodic chapters tell miniature gems of stories (one has been nominated for a Locus Award) tracing Bod’s growth from a spoiled boy who runs away with the ghouls to a young man for whom the metaphor of setting out into the world becomes achingly real. 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."
[Review of the book The graveyard book, by N. Gaiman]. (2008, August 15). Kirkus' Reviews. Retrieved from
From School Library Journal:
" "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." So begins the tale of Nobody Owens, a child raised in a graveyard by ghosts. The man Jack, a member of an elite and despicable organization, is sent to slit the throats of an entire family. As he prepares to finish off the last and most important family member, he is enraged to discover that the baby boy has eluded him by climbing from his crib and going out the door. The youngster toddles to a nearby graveyard, where the ghostly inhabitants take him in. Little Nobody (Bod) flourishes in the graveyard, a place alive with adventure and mystery. But he longs to enter the world of the living, a place where danger, and the man Jack, await. What a wicked delight to hear this inventive, sinister story (HarperCollins, 2008) read by multi-talented author Neil Gaiman. His voice ranges from silky to gravelly and gruff to sharp-edged. Those who enjoyed Gaiman's Coraline (HarperCollins, 2002) will be eager to hear his inspired reading of this novel. Winner of the 2009 Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Produciton, This captivating production makes the story accessible to younger students as well as reluctant readers."
Hubler, L. (2009, March 1). [Review of the audiobook The graveyard book, by N. Gaiman]. School Library Journal. Retrieved from

Uses: I would showcase this book to tween and teens in a booktalk about books that are new takes on fairy tales and other traditional stories. I think this helps breathe life into the original stories, in this case The Jungle Book, and helps kids recognize the importance of past literary traditions and accomplishments, while introducing them to newer books that rely on these other stories.  Other books that might fit into this theme are books like Cameron Dokey's Golden (a take on Rapunzel), Michael Buckley's The Fairy Tale Detectives (Book 1 of the Sisters Grimm, incorporates lots of different fairy tales), and Alex Flinn's Beastly (a take on Beauty and the Beast).

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