The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is the winner of the Newbery Medal. I’ve already read several sites praising this choice as a popular one, a book kids will enjoy. The last few previous winners have not sold very well which has been taken as a sign that kids did not like them and therefore they should not have been the winners. I do agree that one sign of excellence in children’s and young adult literature is that children and young adults like it in large numbers, but that should not be the sole criteria nor the over-riding one. Popularity should not determine excellence. Otherwise the Newbery Medal will become about as valuable as a Grammy.
Is The Graveyard Book worthy of The Newbery Medal? I have not been following current YA books closely enough lately to say it was the best one that year. I have read almost all of the past winners though and many of the past honor books over the years which gives me some basis for an opinion. Of the seven previous winners in this century that I have read so far I’d say The Graveyard Book is better than three of them, about as good as one of them and not as good as three of them. Mr. Gaiman is a very popular author, so The Graveyard Book will probably do very well as far as sales are concerned. This will certainly make some people very happy.
The Graveyard Book is the story of Nobody Owens who is raised from toddlerhood by the dead and undead inhabitants of an old graveyard. Nobody’s family is murdered in the opening scenes of the book by a mysterious man called Jack. Bod, as Nobody is called, wanders innocent and unaware away from the scene, down the road and into the graveyard which Jack cannot enter. The ghosts in the graveyard and their guardian, a strange man called Silas who is neither fully dead nor fully alive, agree that they should protect the toddler, keep him in the graveyard where he’ll be safe from Jack who still wants to kill him and raise him as their own.
The rest of the book is the story of how Bod grows up raised by ghosts. There are many amusing and suspenseful scenes in the book. Because he is initially taught history by people who actually lived it, he runs in to some trouble once he begins going to the local school and starts to correct his history teacher’s version of the past. He meets a live girl and together they explore an ancient pre-Roman tomb guarded by Sleers who’ve lain in wait over two thousand years for the return of their master. Outside of the graveyard lurks the menacing Jack, still trying to complete his murderous task, still trying to get into the graveyard and kill Bod.
I found reading The Graveyard Book to be an uneven experience. I was enthralled at times as one should be in a good children’s book, but I also found myself waiting for him to get on with it too. (I have found this to be the case with the other Neil Gaiman books I’ve read, so it could just be me.) The best children’s books, like many of the best adult books, leave the reader in a temporary state of wonder, a satisfied maybe blissful state that can last a few seconds or a few minutes sometimes an afternoon. Recent Newbery Winners like Holes; Bud, Not Buddy; Walk Two Moons; and The Giver all left me in this state. The Graveyard Book did not. I suspect it will satisfy Mr. Gaiman’s fans who are almost legion, and it may very well sell lots of copies, but I’m still waiting for a Newbery winner to be excited about.
This review first ran on my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B. back in 2008. It’s kind of a bit snarky, isn’t it. I was lukewarm about The Graveyard Book while most people seemed to be head-over-heels in love with it. To be honest, I’m a bit resentful of these adult authors dipping their quills in children’s and young adult lit. I think they get away with a lot of lukewarm stuff that children’s authors wouldn’t get away with.
Dakota, on the other hand, loved The Graveyard Book. It was one of her favorites. She ate the whole thing up.
She’s still doing fine, but they way–thirteen weeks after we were told she probably had only eight weeks left.