The Graveyard Book
UPDATE: It appears that The Graveyard Book just won the Newberry. I couldn’t think of a current children’s book that deserves it better.
It’s by Neil Gaiman and it contains the word “graveyard” in the title, so I knew I was going to like it.
The book is about Nobody Owens, a boy who is being raised by ghosts. See, a hit man murdered the rest of his family, but the baby Nobody crawls out of the house in the meanwhile and the ghosts in the local cemetery take him in. There he gets into the usual trouble a boy in a graveyard gets into, getting kidnapped by ghouls, awakening an ancient menace in a barrow, and getting on the wrong side of a corrupt shopkeeper. For these he gets admonished by his loving, if rather ineffectual, adoptive parents, who died a couple of hundred years before he was born.
And then there’s Silas. I cannot begin to describe how awesome Silas is. In fact, I can’t describe him in much detail at all without giving away a major spoiler. Here’s a couple of hints, though: Silas sleeps during the daytime and he consumes only one food – and it’s not bananas. He’s the one who really brings Nobody up and teaches him what’s what. There are so many reasons this is a piece of great writing. One is Gaiman’s peculiar brand of odd humor (see the bit with the banana). The other is the themes. Nobody is a very human character who’s trying to grow up and understand the world, even though he’s had a most unusual upbringing. Silas is torn between letting Nobody be with the living where he belongs, and wanting to protect him from the hit man who’s still out there somewhere.
And any book with the following line in it has got to be good:
They avoided one garden (“Psst!” whispered the Honorable Archibald Fitzhugh. “Dogs!”) and ran along the top of the garden wall, scampering over it like rats the size of children.