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Top 100 Children’s Novels #53: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

#53 The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008)
39 points

The first line is one of the best booktalks ever. I’ve never had a kid turn it away. – Heather Christensen

This story has it all- adventure, ghosts, murder, memorable characters, and a hero we can’t help but love! – Gina Detate

Another relatively recent inclusion, but one with staying power.  Generally this book is invoked when folks start talking about kid-friendly Newbery winners.  I’ve heard it argued as either kid-friendly or not both ways, so that’s actually a tough call.  In any case, no movie yet but it has its fans.

The synopsis from my review reads, “It starts with three murders. There were supposed to be four. The man Jack was one of the best, maybe THE best, and how hard is it to kill a toddler anyway? But on that particular night the little boy went for a midnight toddle out the front door while the murderer was busy and straight into the nearby graveyard. Saved and protected by the denizens of that particular abode (the ghosts and the far more corporeal if mysterious Silas), the little boy is called Bod, short for Nobody because no one knows his name. As he grows older, Bod learns the secrets of the graveyard, though he has to be careful. The man (or is it “men”?) who killed his family could come back for him. Best to stay quiet and out of sight. Yet as Bod grows older it becomes clear that hiding may not be the best way to confront his enemies. And what’s more, Bod must come to grips with what it means to grow up.”

I rather liked this assessment in the journal Spectator. “At one time there was a fashion for speaking of death as ‘the last taboo’. In recent years this taboo has been thoroughly broken, and a successful film can be made about a boy who sees dead people. Yet the world of the dead continues to fascinate. Gaiman has a particular talent for putting his imaginary worlds just adjacent to the real one; in Neverwhere a yuppie finds another world behind those inexplicable doors in the Underground, and in Stardust Fairyland is just on the other side of a wall. Death too lies beyond a gate, and Neil Gaiman is a wonderful guide.”

The book won the 2009 Newbery Medal, beating out The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle, Savvy by Ingrid Law, and After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson.  Gaiman then gave a delightful acceptance speech that, amongst other things, revealed a horrific change made to the first line in the Puffin edition of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  You should have seen the faces of the librarians in the audience when he revealed this.  Jaws were dropped, ladies and gentlemen.

Now one chapter of The Graveyard Book was previously published as a short story in the Gaiman anthology M is for Magic, which raised all kinds of questions about the book’s legitimacy as a Newbery winner.  So much so that Peter Sieruta was able to do a brilliant spoof called Graveyard Book to be Stripped of Newbery? that had people running for the hills… momentarily.

  • Care for some perfume based on the book?  You’ve a wide assortment to choose from.

The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy
(clearly I don’t quote them enough) said of the book, “Although on the surface the story might seem too horrific for younger children, the violence is no worse than typical fairy tale violence (where wolves eat grandmothers), and the fright readers will feel is more entertaining than disturbing. This is a good read for all ages.”

Said The Washington Post, “The book’s power lies in Gaiman’s ability to bring to quirky life (pun intended) the graveyard’s many denizens, including a protective vampire and a feisty medieval witch. Like a bite of dark Halloween chocolate, this novel proves rich, bittersweet and very satisfying.”

School Library Journal agreed with, “Gaiman has created a rich, surprising, and sometimes disturbing tale of dreams, ghouls, murderers, trickery, and family.”

The New York Times (which is to say, Monica Edinger) said, “Neil Gaiman follows in the footsteps of long-ago storytellers, weaving a tale of unforgettable enchantment.”

And Kirkus pretty much peppered the book with kisses when it said, “Closer in tone to American Gods than to Coraline, but permeated with Bod’s innocence, this needs to be read by anyone who is or has ever been a child.”

And here is the British cover as penned by Chris Riddell.  It shows Bod and Silas side-by-side.

This was the signed limited edition.


This, the French.


And this, the German.


I hardly lack for videos to include with this book.  Indeed I have a great deal more difficulty just culling them down.  Just the essential then, eh what?  Which is to say, the vids that amuse me the most.

First off, a keen trailer.  Missed this one when it first came out.  98,000+ people have already seen it so what’s another viewing, eh?

And YA author James Kennedy, after writing the world’s greatest blog post, challenged “Gaiman” to a fair fight for that Newbery.  Part One is here and here is Part Two:

And if you would prefer to hear the author himself (rather than a bewigged version) read the book, you can see the first chapter spoken here.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. The audio version has Neil Gaiman reading it, and is totally and completely brilliant.


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