My sis and I fought over everything when we were kids. Books, records, pizza, you name it, both of us wanted the better, bigger share. We thought we’d grown out of most of that habit until we started discussing books to talk about on this blog. Barb insisted she wanted to write on Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. I wasn’t willing to give that one to her. Mom & Dad, wherever you are, this is our attempt to share…
BG: First, I think you have to discuss how this is related to The Jungle Book. How this says maybe the dead are nothing to fear.
LG: Well, it is an homage to the Kipling classic. In Kipling’s book, Mowgli is raised by wild beasts of the Jungle, which was surely a strange, fearful place for Victorian Europeans. In The Graveyard Book, Nobody (Bod) Owens is protected and nurtured by the ghosts in an English Cemetery and death is a fearful unknown state for us. In both books, the child learns valuable information from beings he would normally be taught to fear. It could be both authors are trying to say the “unknown” doesn’t always mean “bad.”
BG: It’s more than that. In The Graveyard Book, the living people are the cruel and scary ones.
LG: Are you sure the Jacks are living men?
BG: Don’t talk about them.
LG: Why not?
BG: Because it’s Halloween and this book is frightening already! It’s hard to recommend a book that starts out with a triple murder.
LG: But that’s one thing I like about the book, how it breaks so many rules. This book is aimed at a younger audience, people we try to shield from violent crime. But because the crime is a necessary part of the story, the author includes it in a way that doesn’t frighten the readers. It happens off-stage and the reader doesn’t see the results, only the baby making an unknowing escape. This book upends a lot of conventions.
BG: I also think the message of independence is strong here. Gaiman’s story says “Don’t waste your potential, your life. The good and the bad things that happen to you help create the person you become and even though you have a “cushion of supporters” it is really you, in the end it is you that makes the decisions and brings you to your goals. It’s YOUR life. You face it with all it’s faults and pleasures and you realize that life needs to be accepted (the good and bad) and it needs to be lived fully.
LG: Absolutely. I think that’s tied to the author’s appreciation of existence. He says the world has much good as well as evil in it and it’s important to recognize and celebrate the good, in all of its manifestations, as well as fight the evil. Unlike other writers, Gaiman doesn’t say “The World is Good” or “The World is Bad”. He says it’s incredible.
BG: Anything else?
LG: Well, just the usual things. There’s humor, like where Bod has trouble in school because the ghosts tell him what really happened at historical events instead of what his books say. It’s a great book to read out loud. And I find Bod’s enigmatic guardian, Silas, intriguing.
BG: You would!
LG: And I want to know what happens next. There are characters living at the end of the book and I really want to know what happens to them after that.
BG: To me, that’s one of the real tests of a book. When you get to the end of the story but you want to know more.
LG: Exactly. You’re a teacher, what age group would you give this book to?
BG: Well the Newbery Award classified it as a YA (Young Adult) book but I think some younger readers than this could handle it. I’m not sure it’s a little kid’s book.
LG: But I do think Gaiman writes for the child inside all of us. On that level, it’s a also book for adults.
BG: Oh yes, it’s a book for any adult with an imagination.
LG: So, are you visiting any graveyards this Halloween?
BG: Probably not! But if I do, I’ll have The Graveyard Book with me. It will remind me the dead can’t hurt me.
LG: And we accept whatever comes with bravery. Yup, that’s a good attitude