Back before The Graveyard Book won the Newberry, a fellow blogger had recommended this book in glowing terms (I think it was Carrie from Books and Movies). She had been reading it to her kids, who were about my kids' ages. I'd stopped reading to mine years ago, when they became proficient at reading themselves, but thought this sounded like a great idea. While my mom was out running errands, I had her pick up the book. When she delivered it to me, she said "Are you sure you want the kids reading this? I read the first chapter and it was really scary!".
Indeed it is. In the first chapter, we find a man named Jack sneaking into a family's home, and brutally murdering the mother, father and sister. He plans to finish off the last member of the family, a toddler, but the child escapes and runs into a graveyard to hide. The ghosts residing in the graveyard are all a-twitter. The newly dead spirits of the child's parents beg the residents of the graveyard to take care of their baby, and protect him from the man Jack. And so they do. They name the child Nobody (Bod for short) and from that point on, he lives in a tomb. They choose Silas as his guardian, as he is something like a vampire, and has the ability to get Bod food and arrange tutoring. Huh? What the...? Very strange. This won the Newberry? OK, fine. The kids love it. The spookier the better, they say.
Bod grows up in the graveyard. He is tutored in the alphabet, ghouls, witches, an ancient three-headed beast called a Sleer, how to Fade and to manipulate people's dreams. He makes a friend with a little girl, as well as all the inhabitants of the graveyard. As a community, they embrace the child, giving him history lessons from events that occurred in their lifetime, as well as practical advice. He goes to a "regular" school for awhile, but he draws too much attention to himself and is pulled back. You see, the man Jack intends to finish what he started, and still seeks to find Bod, years later.
I've not read all the Newberry winners, but this one seems to be on the eclectic end of the spectrum. Gaiman certainly has an imagination with a dark side, which translates into an edgy story that I'm not sure every child would enjoy. Mine did though. It was a refreshing change in our routine, when the kids are normally watching TV or playing video games, they instead come to me and beg for a Graveyard Book reading. This is an activity I will continue, for sure. My one negative comment would be about the writing itself. Because I was reading the story out loud, it was blatantly obvious to me and the kids that Gaiman has an issue with run-on sentences, as well as some awkward wording. Often I had to read sentences two or three times over to get the point. My son had dibs on this book for a guest post, and this is what he thought...
Ryan's take: I really liked this book. At beginning of each chapter, it is pretty scary. But in most of the chapters, it brightens up in ten pages or so. My favorite character is Bod, because he is brave, clever and kind. I also liked the Sleer because of the mystery of what it was and what it looked like. I especially enjoyed the last fifty pages of the story, when Bod gets rid of five bad guys without killing them, and faces off against his family's killer, Jack. I would recommend this book to kids between the ages of 10 and 12 because it might creep out smaller children. I am 9 years old, but I am pretty good at handling creepy things.