By Brendan Anderson, AmeriCorps member serving on the Staples, Inc. team with Curley K-8 School
Now, as the wind blows cold and the nights grow long and Halloween creeps in shadows on the imagination, it seems the perfect time to sit quite still in someplace quiet and slowly fade into a world of ghosts and ghouls and little boys growing older. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, is a brilliant story about achieving maturity, told by one of the greatest living fantasists. Each chapter reveals a different episode in the life of Bod, an orphan boy with ghosts for guardians and a vampire for a friend, who is being hunted by the mysterious and murderous “man Jack.” In one chapter, Bod explores a Celtic barrow where hungry spirits brood over ancient treasures, while in another he attends school with other living, breathing children, an adventure for which he is entirely unprepared. Through all Bod’s adventures, Gaiman blends his trademark humor with the stark, grey gravestones of Bod’s home, giving life and voice to characters from times both recent and far.
There are, of course, many books AmeriCorps members could suggest to teenagers about children learning to stand on their own (most of which, for some strange reason, would probably also be about orphans); however, The Graveyard Book is unique in many ways. Though it takes its inspiration from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, The Graveyard Book focuses solely on the boy who learns to rely on himself by following the advice of his ghostly guides. Gaiman perfectly captures the perceived solitude of the teenager seeking to find a place in an ever-expanding world while simultaneously acknowledging the people who lend support along the way. This is a wonderful lesson for our students. The Graveyard Book teaches that strength can sometimes mean accepting help and, even in a bleak world of headstones and sinister shadows, a boy brave enough to face danger is never truly alone. It is a book that will thrill, unsettle, even amuse, but The Graveyard Book’s greatest message, the one that will echo in readers’ minds for years to come, is this: even surrounded by death, there is life and hope to continue living.