In A Nutshell
Neil Gaiman's smash-hit Coraline has all the elements of a great story: a brave heroine, a magical world, a talking cat, some absent parents, and a crazy kidnapper who impersonates people's moms in order to steal their souls. Okay, so that last part is kind of bizarre. In fact, the entire book is pretty weird. But this shouldn't surprise you: it was written by Neil Gaiman, after all. Most of his books are strange, in the most amazing way possible. (If you like Coraline, you should definitely check out The Graveyard Book, Gaiman's other hit children's book.)
The British author actually wrote Coraline for his daughters. Best dad ever. He wanted to give his daughters a fun and scary story about a cool female heroine. Check, check, and check. The story might not be very long, but it took Gaiman over ten years to finish. (We didn't say most efficient dad ever!) Coraline hit the bookshelves in 2002 and cleaned up in the awards department, getting (among others) a School Library Journal Best Book Award and a place on the ALA list of Notable Children's Books.
Gaiman considers Coraline the "strangest" book he's ever written. He's also very proud of it, and for good reason: Coraline appeals to a huge range of people. The author noticed that kids tend to read it as a cool adventure (duh) while adults read it as kind of a horror story (source: "Why I Wrote Coraline" in the HarperCollins ebook edition of Coraline). (Something that probably scares kids and adults alike are the book's illustrations, which are super creepy and very worth checking out.) So, what do you think: adventure or horror? Or, dare we say, both?
Coraline's popularity doesn't show any signs of letting up. Since it was published in 2002 it has become an audio book, a musical, a graphic novel, and an award-winning movie. And you know what? We can't wait to see what's next.
Why Should I Care?
Have you ever been afraid of anything? Not like monsters-in-the-closet afraid, but really, truly how-am-I-going-to-get-through this afraid? We're thinking about that time you were in a play and had to get up on stage in front of your whole school and recite your lines. Or the first time you went to camp and had to say goodbye to your parents. Or even the time you were home alone during a thunderstorm and you had to stay calm for your little brother.
One of these things has happened to all of us – and how did we get through it? We did it anyway. If we hadn't gotten on stage, gone to camp, or comforted our brother, we would have never gotten over our fears. We wouldn't have been brave.
Coraline is a story of bravery, and according to Coraline herself, being brave is "when you're scared but you still do it anyway" (5.80). Coraline's bravery might be the epic, fairy tale kind: she does fight monsters, after all. But Coraline teaches us that bravery comes in all forms. Bravery can be going back to get your glasses near a wasps nest. It can even be just going to school. If you're scared and you do it anyway, you're brave.
Coraline reminds us that we don't need to ride a BMX over a box jump or poke a raccoon with a stick to be brave. Bravery can be a much more everyday occurrence. No matter what it is, if we do it, we'll gain confidence and feel better about ourselves after – just like Coraline did. That's not to say it's easy (and neither was battling the other mother), but that's what makes it worth it.