New Read: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman came to me while I was shopping for a fun book for my cousin’s baby’s birthday. Is that a second cousin? I’m not sure. Anyway, he four this year, so even though I love this book, I decided to give him something a little less dark, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM!

I said “less” dark, not “not” dark. Yeah, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM can be a little intense, and I know he can’t read it himself, but I read it as a bedtime story a chapter at a time to my boys and they loved it. The glory of a read-a-loud is that you can read something that’s slightly over their heads. Yes, you have to stop for questions about the story and word meanings, but that’s the best part. Knowledge gained, experience points!

Another reason I picked Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM was because it was one of our favorite movies when we were kids, The Secret of NIHM, and I thought she would get a kick out of reading it as much as the kids would. Those old movies are based on some wonderful books! I highly recommend thinking back to your favorite childhood movies and finding the book they’re based on, even if you don’t have kids to read to. It’s a treasure trove. Every once in a while, I go through my bookcase of children’s books and re-read one just for the fond memories.

But we’re not here to talk about that! I’m here to tell you about The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman!

the graveyard book cover on leaves

Yes, I picked the book up off the shelf because I saw Neil Gaiman’s name plastered across the front. I haven’t read anything of his that I didn’t like. In fact, now that I’ve read this, and Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of Gods: Primitive Mythology, I may need to re-read and re-watch American Gods, but I digress once again.

From the description:

“Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living or the dead.”

Shut up and take my money.

I read this book in a few hours and loved every page. It’s dark, there is tragedy, but there is kindness and light. It has depth and lots to talk about with kids. Death is something I think, as a society, we have lost touch with, setting ourselves up for bigger problems.

I’ll just wrap this up with a few of my favorite quotes as per my usual.

“A graveyard is not normally a democracy, and yet death is the great democracy, and each of the dead had a voice…”

It’s a little contradictory, isn’t it? But they were deciding on where the living child they found would be allowed to stay. But I liked the analogy with death. In death, we all get a voice. We all end up dead.

“The old Roman’s hair was pale in the moonlight, and he wore the toga in which he had been buried, with, beneath it, a thick woolen vest and leggings because this was a cold country at the edge of the world, and the only place colder was Caledonia to the North, where the men were more animal than human and covered in orange fur, and were too savage even to be conquered by the Romans, so would soon be walled off in their perpetual winter.”

I had never heard of Caledonia, so I did a quick search and found some interesting trails to follow. I can imagine the adventures my kids and I would have had looking into the ancient history even farther.

“So you were the first to be buried here?”

A hesitation, “Almost the first,” said Caius Pompeius. “Before the Celts there were other people on this island. One of them was buried here.”

The deep magic, the ancient of ancients. There’s some of this in The Masks of God and I first heard about in How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. Another amazing, life altering book I read and didn’t blog about because I read it during my “hermit” stage of the year. It’s a book worth reading. Just saying.

“Does it work? Are they happier dead?”

“Sometimes. Mostly, no. It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you what I mean.”

Happiness is inside you, not where you are or what you’re doing, or what you have. This is what I love about children’s books like this. They are filled with philosophy and history in the smallest doses.

“Fear is contagious. You can catch it. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to say they’re scared for the fear to become real.”

Another thing we all should have learned as kids, right?

“I didn’t come here for friends,” said Bod truthfully. “I came here to learn.”

“Do you know how weird that is? Nobody comes to school to learn. I mean, you come because you have to.”

Bod didn’t have to be there. He isn’t on any list, no birth certificate, no home, no parents. He chose to go there, against the wishes of his guardian and risking his safety, because he wanted to learn more about the current “living” world.

This reminded me of my youngest son when he started taking classes at the community college after we homeschooled (unschooled) for ten years. He wanted more that I had to offer, and we thought that going to community college, where you choose whether or not you want to go and what to take, would up the chances of being in a room full of people that want to learn. It turns out that twelve years of forced attendance takes a bit of time to get over. Most of the kids there were only attending because the high school counselors told them they had to, or their parents threatened to go to school or get a job and move out. It was sad, but eye-opening in many ways. And once he got into higher classes, things started to change.

“People want to forget the impossible. It makes their world safer.”

Another, “don’t I know it” moment. And there were so many beautiful scenes, lesson to be learned, deaths to be faced and sacrifices to be made!

This beautiful book has been added to the “kids” bookshelf along with all my kids’ others. Maybe someday I’ll read it to my grandkids, or they’ll come borrow books from me. Doesn’t that sound like a fairy tale?!

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