The Graveyard Book
The Graveyard Book is English author Neil Gaiman’s bestselling children's novel. It was first published in 2008, and is packed full of awesome illustrations by Dave McKean. It won the Newbery Medal in 2009, has been translated into a bunch of languages, and is loved by kids (and adults!) of all ages. Gaiman is most famous for this novel and for Coraline, but he’s written lots of other books that are mostly for adults. He almost always writes science fiction and fantasy, and writes graphic novels and comics, including The Sandman (which had 75 issues). Our point is, if you want more Gaiman, you can definitely have more Gaiman.
The Graveyard Book is the story of Nobody “Bod” Owens, an orphan who’s raised in a graveyard by dead people and supernatural beings. As you might have already guessed, Gaiman admits that he was really, really into The Jungle Book (the story of a boy raised by wolves in the jungle; you might know it from the Disney movie) and it gave him the idea for The Graveyard Book.
We have to look into Gaiman’s own childhood to really understand where he got his idea for the novel. No, Gaiman is not an orphan and he wasn’t raised by wolves (or ghosts, like Nobody Owens). His story is a lot sadder. He was raised by – we can hardly say it – librarians and – don’t panic now – books. Yes, it’s true. He talks about it in his Newbery Medal acceptance speech. It seems that he would have set this story in the library, but those mean librarians did not allow him to do so:
[…] librarians tell me never to tell this story, and especially never to paint myself as a feral child who was raised by librarians; they tell me people will misinterpret my story and use it as an excuse to use their libraries as free day care for their children. (source)
All kidding aside, The Graveyard Book is a book inspired by a bunch of other books and stories. It expresses a deep love for books and for reading, and seems to inspire the same in its readers. And it might also hope to make us love graveyards, though we can imagine that’s more of a stretch. Gaiman didn’t spend all his time in the library as a kid – he also spent many a happy hour playing in a graveyard like Nobody Owens.
But none of that is the real inspiration for the story. We’ll stop teasing you, then: Gaiman says he was “inspired by one image: my infant son Michael […] on his tricycle, pedaling through the graveyard across the road in the sunshine” (source). It took Neil Gaiman over twenty years to turn that idea into The Graveyard Book, and not because he thought it was a dumb idea – it just took him that long to become the writer he needed to be in order to write the story we have before us. We hope you enjoy all his hard work. We sure did.
Why Should I Care?
Have you ever seen a ghost or a ghoul or a werewolf? How can you be really, truly sure whether you have or have not? After reading Harry Potter, we started looking around our local train stations for entrances to hidden platforms (9 ¾, anyone?). After reading Percy Jackson, we became concerned that mythological monsters walk the streets, and we mortals just can't see them because of the "mist." Who's to say, right? And after reading The Graveyard Book, we became convinced that graveyards are full of friendly ghosts, and that every graveyard has a ghoul gate in it.
We love fantasy books because they make us look at our world in a new, more colorful way. These books make us wonder: is there a magical world, which is part of our own world, but just outside what we can see?
After we read The Graveyard Book, we here at Shmoop decided to drop everything and take a trip to our local graveyard. It was a dark and stormy night. The clock had just struck midnight as we made our way. Our VIS (Very Important Shmooper) status got us in through the locked gates. We concentrated really hard, and although we couldn’t exactly see them, we sure felt like the dead were looking at us, trying to communicate something. We’re pretty sure we found the ghoul gate, too. OK, the truth is, an owl's hoot scared us off and we ran away before we could do a full investigation. (Note to self: Next time go during the daytime.)
We challenge you, dear Shmooper, to do your own investigation and check out a graveyard (during the day). Here's what you should do:
- Find the ghoul gate (there is one in every graveyard). Chapter 3 of The Graveyard Book says that the ghoul gate (the place where ghouls move between earth and Hell) is "waterstained and bulging, with cracked stone, scraggly grass or rank weeds about it, and a feeling, when you reach it, of abandonment." Can you locate it?
- Even if you can't talk to the ghosts in the graveyard, try to learn their stories from their headstones. Check out the dates of their birth and death. See if you can find their family members in the graveyard. Read the inscription on the gravestone to get clues about their life and death.
- Take a rubbing of some interesting gravestones, so you can have a copy. (Don't know how to make a grave rubbing? Here are some tips to get you started.)
- When you go home, go online and research the time periods when the people were alive. See if you can get any information about what life was like in your city when the people were living. (You might want to try the website for your city's historical society.)
Now, don't you feel like you care about The Graveyard Book? We sure do.