Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book is an exciting coming-of-age novel that blends folklore and legends with Gothic, horror, and mystery genres. As students read the book, they can identify elements of these genres and discuss how they are combined in a unique way. This work also includes graphic novel-style illustrations, and your class can evaluate how these images contribute to the text.

As its title alludes, The Graveyard Book was largely inspired by Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, so students should be aware of how Gaiman's work mirrors The Jungle Book as a coming-of-age story depicted through connected episodes. Your class could also read Kipling's novel in the same unit and discuss parallels between characters and events in the works.

As a class activity, students can research and discuss the significance of characters' names. They can also analyze how characters such as the Lady on the Grey, Silas, and Miss Lupescu relate to and differ from figures in folklore and mythology. Class discussion can focus on how Gaiman inverts the concept that graveyards are scary and dangerous and the living world is safe.

Summary

The Graveyard Book chronicles episodes in the life of Nobody "Bod" Owens, a boy who lives in a graveyard and is raised by ghosts and a guardian who is neither living nor dead. Taken in as a baby after his family is murdered, Bod embarks on a number of adventures in the graveyard and encounters fantastic and horrifying creatures, including ghouls and the frightening Sleer. As he matures, Bod begins to question what happened to his birth parents and why he must be protected by the residents of the graveyard. Gaiman's novel details a boy trying to find his identity and place in the world.

Content Warning

The Graveyard Book contains some violence and horror.

Objectives for Teaching The Graveyard Book

  • Analyze how the major episodes in the work come together to form a cohesive novel.
  • Evaluate The Graveyard Book as a coming-of-age story.
  • Consider the illustrations and discuss whether the graphic novel elements contribute to or detract from the work.
  • Explain the significance of names and identity and cite comments and incidents in which names are given, withdrawn, or discovered.
  • Explain the concept of boundaries and how it applies to this novel.
  • Analyze the author's use of archaic language and dialect.
  • Infer meanings about characters, events, and culture when the meanings are not explicitly stated.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Coming of Age
  • Diction
  • Epigraph
  • Episodic Novel
  • Foreshadowing
  • Inference
  • Irony
  • Point of View

Themes and Motifs

  • Identity — The mysterious Sleer tells Bod to "find his name." Other characters, such as the man Jack and Silas remain mysterious because their full identities are concealed.
  • Community — The graveyard contains a vibrant community of many ghosts from different eras and occasional visitors who are neither living nor dead.
  • Coming of Age — As Bod matures, he becomes more independent and questions what his elders tell him as he searches for his place in the world.

Key Facts

  • Length: 328 pages
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Lexile Measure: 820
  • Recommended Grade Band: 6 – 8

Awards

  • Newbery Medal (2009)
  • Hugo Award for Best Novel (2009)
  • Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel (2009)
  • Carnegie Medal (2010)
  • Cybils Award for Fantasy and Science Fiction (2008)
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2009)
  • SFX Award for Best Novel (2010)

Movies

A film adaptation is in development.

Your students will love:

  • Watching Bod grow up in unusual circumstances.
  • The mythology and community of the graveyard.

Students may have problems with:

  • The archaic language some characters use.
  • The fact that the actions of the Honour Guard and the Convocation remain in the background.