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Reading guide for The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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The Graveyard Book

by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2010, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

About the Book

When his family is murdered one night by the man Jack, an infant boy toddles unnoticed up the street to the graveyard, where he is taken in and raised by its denizens—ghosts, ghouls, vampires, and werewolves. Such an unusual upbringing affords young Nobody Owens (Bod, for short) just about everything he could wish for, but he still longs for human companionship, news of his family's murderer, and life beyond the graveyard. Bod's pursuit of these things increasingly places him in danger, because the man Jack is still looking for him . . . waiting to finish the job he started.


Discussion Questions

  1. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean are frequent collaborators. How do McKean's illustrations contribute to your reading of the story?
  2. There is a rich tradition of orphans in children's literature, as well as a tradition of child-of-destiny themes in fantasy literature. Discuss how Bod fits squarely into both categories.
  3. The graveyard is populated with characters we typically think of as evil. How does Gaiman play with this idea, particularly in the characters of Silas, Miss Lupescu, and Eliza Hempstock? What do these characterizations suggest about human nature?
  4. From the opening lines, Gaiman is able to hook readers with a distinct narrative voice and a vivid setting. Discuss how both of these elements serve the story.
  5. If you are familiar with Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, discuss how The Graveyard Book is reminiscent of Kipling's classic tale. How does a familiarity with The Jungle Book enhance the reading of Gaiman's story?
  6. At the close of the novel, Mrs. Owens sings about embracing the human experience: "Face your life / Its pain, its pleasure, / Leave no path untaken" (p.306). How does this theme resonate throughout the novel?
  7. "A graveyard is not normally a democracy, and yet death is the great democracy" (p. 29). How is death the great democracy? How does Gaiman explore the relationship between the dead and the living?
  8. It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. How does the graveyard come together to raise this particular child? Describe the special mentoring relationships that Bod has with Silas and Miss Lupescu.
  9. Boundaries—between the living and the dead, the graveyard and the world—are an important part of the novel. How does Bod test these boundaries? What are the consequences of Bod's actions?
  10. Bod's human interactions are limited to a shortlived friendship with Scarlett and a brief stint at school. Discuss how these experiences change Bod. How do our friendships and associations with others affect us?
  11. What do you think of the advice that Bod receives from Nehemiah Trot, the dead poet: "Do not take revenge in the heat of the moment. Instead, wait until the hour is propitious" (p. 233)?
  12. How does The Graveyard Book compare to Gaiman's first novel for young readers, Coraline? Much of Coraline's success can be attributed to its strong and diverse following. What are some of the characteristics of Gaiman's writing that allow for a crossover appeal?
  13. Like much of Gaiman's work, The Graveyard Book manages to fuse elements of humor, horror, fantasy, and mystery into a single story. Identify examples of these elements and discuss how they work together. How might the story read differently if one or more of these elements were removed?


Extension Activities

  1. Gravestone Rubbing. Scarlett first meets Mr. Frost in the graveyard when he is rubbing gravestones, a hobby that many people enjoy. Visit a cemetery with paper and crayons to rub some gravestones of your own. Play the part of a detective and see what you can infer about those buried there based on their gravestones.
     
  2. Epitaph Poems. Various dead characters in the novel are introduced with their epitaphs. An epitaph is the inscription found on a tombstone that summarizes and memorializes the deceased. An epitaph poem, therefore, is a very short (and often witty) poem about the deceased. Write epitaph poems for Bod, Silas, Jack, and Miss Lupescu, or for yourself, or for a friend.
     
  3. Book Trailer. The short previews of coming attractions (known as trailers in the movie industry) are a great way to entice an audience. Design a trailer for The Graveyard Book and be as creative as possible. Think about incorporating a script, costumes, props, sound effects, software applications (such as PowerPoint), and a video camera.
     
  4. Monster Trivia. Research some of the monsters featured in the book, such as werewolves, witches, vampires, ghosts, and ghouls, and write trivia questions about them. Some questions should be based on this particular book, while others may draw from popular culture in general.
     
  5. Supernatural Powers. Bod has several supernatural powers: the Slide, the Fade, and the Dreamwalk. Invent a fourth supernatural power for Bod, draw a picture of him, and label his four special abilities with captions.
     

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of HarperCollins Children's Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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