Thursday, April 16, 2009
REVIEW: The Graveyard Book
Gaiman, N. (2008). The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
After his family is murdered, a nameless toddler finds himself safe in an old graveyard and protected by the ghosts. Given the name Bod, short for Nobody Owens (Nobody Owns, get it?), he is taught by the ghosts and encounters a possible friend, ghouls, a witch, a grey lady, bullies etc. But he eventually must face the man who killed his family to finally be safe and ready to live.
While Bod ages throughout of the book, when he is supposedly six, he hardly feels like a child that young. The plot is engaging enough that older children should be willing to read to the book until Bod is closer to their own age. While there are some illustrations, the long chapters could discourage many readers. Of course, fifth or sixth grade students probably won’t mind any of this if the story is read aloud to them. (I’d probably only consider sharing the book with individual students younger than that on rare occasions, for fear of the potential frights the book might include. (While the ghosts are kind. Some ghouls (especially the 33rd president of the United States) and a “wet knife” still have the potential to frighten some children)
A teacher could emphasize the sense of community that exists in the graveyard. Or the experience of dealing with bullies that Bod has some suggestions about once he begins attending school.
What’s also great about this book is that the reader gets to witness the process of Bod learning to read and becoming a reader who loves books. Plus , the book shares the inevitable truth that each teenage girl should have a cell phone of her very own.
On an only slightly related note, I have been at war with Neil Gaiman for a few years now. He just doesn’t know it. I want him to stop scaring the wee little children with wolves in the walls, button-eyes, etc. and he wants to write successful books and win awards.
I’m biding my time.
I may, however, have to call a truce for The Graveyard Book. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still murder and fiendish characters. But the ghosts are fun and give Bod a safe and supportive environment. And they make me laugh.
Activities to do with the book:
Given the fact that most of the ghosts who live in the graveyard had lived in different centuries, a teacher could guide students in research into the various time periods. Of course, a student may need to provide some extra support to American students, since this is set in England and assumes the geography and history of Europe. Students could also do research projects on subject such as the humors, once believed to have medical significance.
This is a good read aloud. Together, students could speculate about the significance of various supernatural characters. With younger students, a teacher would probably have to pause as characters previously introduced are reintroduced much later in the text.
“There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately” (pp. 2-5).
“It is going to take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will,” said Silas, “take a graveyard” (p. 23).
“It’s the first nice thing anyone’s done for me in five hundred years” (p. 131).
“For soon enough, tomorrow night comes. And how often can a man say that?”
“Every night,” said Bod. “tomorrow night always comes” (p. 147).