Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” has won the Newbery Award, the highest honor awarded to a children’s book. As the title suggests, this story is a far, tortured cry from, say, “The ABC Bunny” or “Honk the Moose,” two books with Minnesota connections that were Honor Books (runners-up) in the competition in years past.
“The Graveyard Book,” which is directed to a slightly older young-adult audience, is a twisted retelling of the raised-by-wolves folktales that inspired “The Jungle Book” or Harry Potter, for that matter. In this one, a boy’s parents are killed and the orphan is raised by the haints, both dead and undead, that inhabit a graveyard. Cheery stuff! Gather round, wee ones!
This year, two other books with Minnesota connections also received honors: “The House in the Night,” by St. Paul writer Susan Marie Swanson, received the Caldecott Medal for its lush, black and white wood engravings by New Hampshire artist Beth Krommes. The Schneider Family Award, which is given to books that reflect the disability experience, was given to “Jerk, California,” by Mora-based writer Jonathan Friesen. The story is based on his life with Tourette’s syndrome.
Gaiman lives in western Wisconsin but is often considered a Twin Cities writer by his extremely excitable fans (let’s just say that the distinctive-looking writer, who is considered a rock star of the literary world, probably moved to the sticks for good reason). Neil Jordan has signed on to create the film version of this book; the film version of his book “Coraline” is out next month.
Gaiman’s fantastic imagination has populated a deeply spooky world in dozens of books, comics, films and graphic novels for children and adults, and it’s good to remember that kids may have the darkest tastes of all. Recent winners and finalists include books about the Hitler Youth, Al Capone, and the Yellow Fever epidemic, proving that the real world is even scarier than Gaiman’s world.
Gaiman wasn’t immediately available for interviews because he was en route to appear on The Today Show this morning. But here’s a video interview he did with Wired.com about “The Graveyard.”