Apparently, Neil Gaiman was surprised when he learned he’d been awarded the Newbery Award, annually give to an author for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children, for his novel The Graveyard Book.
You are on a speakerphone with at least 14 teachers and librarians and suchlike great, wise and good people, I thought. Do not start swearing like you did when you got the Hugo.
When I started this book, I was surprised, too. Typical of Gaiman, it has a horrific beginning. Atypical of awarded books for older children/teens, this begins with a frightening chapter about the murder of a family. Because this is a fantasy novel, the baby escapes, though, and toddles to a nearby graveyard, where he is taken in, named Nobody Owens (Bod for short), and cared for by its denizens.
As he grows, Bod meets creatures both human and non-, and discovers there is good and evil in all. He’s a typical boy raised by ghosts, though, and thus his childhood is unique and fascinating, featuring fascinating adventures and encounters courtesy of Gaiman’s celebrated imagination. The book is aptly illustrated by frequent Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean, in atmospheric black-and-white ink spread out over three pages.
In many ways, this is the oldest story of all, about an orphaned boy growing to his destiny to fight forces of evil. In its particulars, though, it’s unique and quite wonderful, often funny, frequently moving and thought provoking. By the end I could easily see how this alternately simple and complex tale won over the Newbery judges, who have this to say:
“A child named Nobody, an assassin, a graveyard and the dead are the perfect combination in this deliciously creepy tale, which is sometimes humorous, sometimes haunting and sometimes surprising,” said Newbery Committee Chair Rose V. Treviño.
Not just an unconventional, challenging book for older children, it is an impressive book for adults as well.