The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Summer Reading I: The Graveyard Book

I decided last summer to blog from time to time about the books I had been reading. For those who don’t know, either because you didn’t read the posts or you just didn’t know about it, I’d decided to read the entire Jack Ryan/John Clark series by Tom Clancy. In chronological order. It took me an incredibly long time. I enjoyed the stories, but when I was done, oh boy was I ever done!

This summer I hope my reading will be more varied. I have a huge stack of books that I have committed to read this summer. They are piled up next to my nightstand. Most of them are professional books that I want to read for myself because I consider myself a professional and, as a professional, I have a deep desire to improve in my craft. There are also a few works of fiction that I plan on reading this summer, especially before I go to bed each night. You see, I read myself to sleep most nights, and I since I am trying to take notes on my professional reading, I don’t think it’d work too well to read those books before I go to bed. And, on the very bottom, I have Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee, which I started over a year ago but would like to actually finish.

There are also a few works of fiction that I plan on reading this summer, especially before I go to bed each night. You see, I read myself to sleep most nights, and I since I am trying to take notes on my professional reading, I don’t think it’d work too well to read those books before I go to bed. Which is why I have recently finished reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

I have a confession to make: I’ve been following Mr. Gaiman on Twitter for some time, I greatly admire him for his devotion to writing and also for his willingness to support independent projects, but I had only read one of his books before, and that was Coraline. (A huge shout-out to my brother Abram who introduced me to Mr. Gaiman by giving me this book for Christmas a few years ago!)

I have been trying to build up my library of Newbery books, both the honor books and the winners, and so when I saw The Graveyard Book at Barnes & Noble one day, I knew I just had to grab it.

Even though I knew nothing about it except that it was a Newbery winner and that it was written by Neil Gaiman.

I started reading and found it was one of those books that I could hardly put down. I read late into the night until I fell asleep with the book on my face and then read first thing in the morning until I had to get out of bed to go for my morning walk. The story itself is a fantastic concept: a young boy is orphaned and adopted by the ghosts in a neighbourhood cemetery. The ghosts decide to name him Nobody Owens, and call him Bod. A local vampire, who has made the cemetery his permanent home when not traveling, becomes the boy’s guardian. (The book never actually tells you that Silas is a vampire, but it is alluded to in several places.) Bod is tutored by Silas, several deceased teachers, and a hell-hound named Ms. Lupesco. Of course, everyone in the graveyard helps to raise the boy and they never resist the opportunity to share stories from their own lives. I don’t want to say much more about the book itself, other than to say it is definitely well worth reading!

If this sounds vaguely similar to The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, that’s because it is. Instead of Mowgli being raised by animals in the jungle, we have Nobody being raised by ghosts in the graveyard. Neil Gaiman was greatly influence by Kipling as a child, and when he first had the idea for The Graveyard Book he wanted to write it in a similar style to Kipling: a series of short stories that were separate but still connected. He doesn’t quite accomplish that, but what he did accomplish was to write a wonderful story that is truly great literature. The copy I purchased includes a transcript of the acceptance speech that Mr. Gaiman gave when his book won the ALA Newbery Award for children’s literature. He discussed the process of writing the story and the experiences from his own life that went into it. Near the end, he shared something that I found profoundly simple: “I wrote it as best I could. That’s the only way I know how to write something. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be any good. It just means you try. And, most of all, I wrote the story that I wanted to read.”

I am going to use this speech as an introduction to writing in my class next year. There is also a video on YouTube that was shared by one of my wonderful colleagues that shares Mr. Gaiman’s advice to young authors: Go out, live life, experience happiness and heartbreak, and then come back and write about it!

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