picked this month’s book because of online chatter. People who hadn’t
read The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman were leery about the story, about the values and
message, and “shocked” that such a book had won the Newberry Award.
However . . . the people who had read it seemed,
mostly, to really enjoy it.
It reminded me of when Jesus
of Nazareth came on TV, and some
big name (foot-in-the-mouth, judgmental, etc.) evangelists (who have
since tripped over said feet) were outraged by it, yet they hadn’t even
seen a trailer much less the first hour of the mini-series. They
condemned it based on what they had heard second- and third- and
fourth-hand. (Is there such a thing as fourth-hand? Well, there is now!)
Anyway . . . what’s the story
about? A family is murdered—the old
(Didn’t they learn anything with Oedipus and the whole Paris/Helen/Troy
debacle?) The toddler target wanders uphill in the middle of the night
to the local cemetery-turned-nature-preserve (and just how many of
those are there in the world? Hmm?), narrowly escaping the murderer,
who tracks by smell (eww!). The boy (how come it’s always a boy who has
these nifty-weird things happen? Did you ever wish that Mowgli was a
girl? Or that Tarzan was a girl? Or Zorro? Okay, they came close with
Catherine Zeta-Jones.) is rescued by the graveyard residents and grows
up there . . . and that’s all I’m gonna tell ya because I think you
should read the book.
Yes, I confess, I’m a heathen
who think Harry Potter is a lot of fun, too. As long as you remember it
ain’t real, folks! This is an alternate reality. Modern
(This is where I could lecture
you about the responsibility of
parents to actually pay attention to what kids read. Talk to your kids.
Make sure they know that in the real world magic spells aren’t fun and
part of your homework.)
Repeat after me: This is fantasy.
That means unreal things
are ordinary. It doesn’t mean we want it to be real. It doesn’t mean we
would welcome it really happening. (Although there were these stories
my Trek club wrote, where we had a working copy of the Enterprise.
Whooo-eee! Major fun.)
If I like the book, what am I
griping about this month?
about a disturbing tendency in books and
TV to make broken families, or no families at all, the norm? Too many
single-parent families. Or kids without parents. Did you ever notice
Roald Dahl specialized in stories in which parents either were
disgusting creatures who deserved their punishment (Matilda)
or were wiped out before the story really started (James and
the Giant Peach, and who actually gets killed by a giant
rhinoceros in the civilized world, anyway)?
Is there a mad conspiracy to
convince kids they don’t need
parents—and when they grow up, becoming a parent is bad for their
TV today teaches that as soon as
you put the wedding ring on your
finger, you lose all couth and your I.Q. drops 50 points. Don’t you
know? Married people are neurotic, jealous, uptight morons. And with a
kid in the house, your I.Q. drops another 50 points because everybody
knows kids are smarter than parents. And the only smart, cool parents
are single parents who let kids do whatever they want, no matter how
self-destructive, immoral, or vulgar, because they’re doing it, too. (Two-and-a-Half
Men comes to mind.)
So, why do I like The
Graveyard Book? Besides the salute to The Jungle
(I wanted to meet Mowgli when I was a kid. He was so cool—and I ain’t
talking about the Disney version, either. Blech! That’s another rant!)
Because Nobody Owens does have a family. Adopted parents and a whole
bunch of “interested parties” who want to do right by him. You know the
saying “It takes a village to raise a child”? (Although, with the way
the world is, do you really want the entire town to influence your
kid?) Well, in this book it takes a graveyard to raise a child. The
adults are caring and thoughtful. They do a pretty good job with Bod.
He’s a hero, somewhat innocent, but he takes risks to protect others
and bring about justice. He knows when he’s wrong and apologizes, and
when he grows up and has to leave the graveyard, you know he’s going to
Because that’s what family is
for: teaching kids how to live right
so they can go out into the world and be heroes in one way or another.
Kind of sad that people have to
be dead to know what really matters in life.