Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book (HarperCollins, 2008)
In many ways, Bod Owens is a typical little boy. He's very inquisitive. He doesn't like yucky food. And he wants to explore the world. In one key way, though, Bod's a wee bit different from other kids: he's been raised in a graveyard, by the dead. Bod, short for Nobody, escaped the murder of his family when he was a baby, crawling his way to the graveyard, where he was taken in by the denizens of the graves, including the mysterious Silas, who becomes the boy's benefactor.
In this oddest of environments, Bod learns to walk, to speak, to read and much, much more. He learns to fade, dreamwalk and haunt, just like the dead, and even how to communicate with a variety of creatures, such as the scary-seeming Night-Gaunts. And although Bod enjoys his life within the graveyard gates, as he grows older, he yearns to learn more, to prepare himself for coping in the outside world. Only thing is, the man who murdered his family in cold blood is out there somewhere, waiting to finish the job. Can Silas and the others teach him all he needs to know to survive with his own kind?
The Graveyard Book presents Bod's early life as a series of loosely connected vignettes, starting with the night he arrives at the graveyard, and including his inadvertent kidnapping by ghouls, his friendships with a human girl and the ghost of a witch, and his very few excursions into the human world (including a beautifully written segment about the Danse Macabre). Bod's an likable, clever boy, and he always means well, even when he makes the occasional wrong choice. Younger readers will easily be able to identify with and root for Bod, while adults will find him charming.
With The Graveyard Book, Gaiman has written a novel full of wit and memorable characters that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Bod's story may be complete by the last page, but one can always hope that maybe some of the others -- villain and friend alike -- might resurface later. Accompanying Gaiman's words are frequent collaborator Dave McKean's black and white illustrations, a perfect whimsical counterpoint.
A delightful read from cover to cover, The Graveyard Book is an excellent book to share with children, particularly as Hallowe'en approaches. Better yet, read it aloud to them.