A toddler unknowingly escapes the murdered who has just killed his entire family by waddling into a graveyard whose ghosts become enamored with the young boy. With a frantic and final plea from the young child's recently murdered mother, the residents of the graveyard vow to protect him and make him part of their community, shielding him from the Jack who seeks to finish the work that he began. The toddler, Bod, grows into a curious and adventurous young man who is constantly seeking connection with the outside world, sometimes through very dangerous encounters with the spiritual and physical world.
Gaiman, N. (2008). The graveyard book. Harper Collins: New York.
Without risking any major spoilers, I have to confess that I was nearly unable to move past the first ten pages. As soon as my mind attached itself to the eighteen-month old boy bumping his rump down a flight of stairs, diaper sagging, my heart stopped. Any mother of a young child, especially a boy, will immediately feel a maternal affection for Bod and his tragic dillema at the onset of the story. Anyone of us in Mistress Owens' shoes would have done the same. From the first line "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife" I was hooked, and despite my initial gut-wrenching reaction to the murder of Bod's family and his mother's final plea, I knew I had to find out what happens to that little naked baby.
Gaiman crafted this novel to be character-driven, particularly through Bod, but also through the villainous Jack, enigmatic Silas, and host of ghosts and ghouls who reside in the grave yard. The relationships that Bod form with each of them drive the plot and conflicts, leading to an ultimate mash-up of life and death fighting to save one young man. In one particularly poignant scene, the dead leave their home to attend a festival during which they dance with the living only to be forgotten once more by morning. Scenes such as this serve as a reminder of the ways in which we remember and keep loved ones who are no longer with us, near us.
This very unique and extraordinary community demonstrates the validity to the adage, "It takes a village to raise a child."
"While his parents and sister are murdered by a mysterious character named Jack, a toddler gets out of his crib, walks out the open front door, and makes his way uphill to a nearby graveyard. "Protect my son!" his mother's ghost exhorts the spirits of the graveyard. A character named Silas and the Owenses, a childless ghost couple, want to raise the boy. The graveyard residents convene and, despite some objections, vote to keep the boy. It won't be easy, though, says Silas. "It is going to take more than a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will take a graveyard.
And just as Mowgli was raised by the wolves and other jungle animals in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book--Gaiman's childhood favorite and the inspiration for this novel--the boy is adopted by the graveyard community. Since the toddler can't tell them his name and looks like nobody they know, they name him Nobody Owens--Bod for short."
Schneider, D. (2010). It Takes a Graveyard to Raise a Child [Review of the book The Graveyard Book]. Book Links, 19(3), 6-8.
The Graveyard Book would be an excellent Newbery Award winner to introduce to students as they explore awards for children's literature. It could stand as the centerpiece to a display or as a gateway for children who are comfortable with illustrated and graphic novels to try a chapter book. Additional award winner's such as Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret could be the content of a book talk featuring illustrated novels that have received recognition in the world of children's literature.
Book trailer narrated by Neil Gaiman