In the Classroom: The Graveyard Book

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It is raining outside, the shades are down, and the classroom is dark. The only light is a small dog-shaped lamp behind me illuminating the final pages of The Graveyard Book.  A couple of my fourth graders are sitting next to me reading along as I read aloud.  Several more are sitting directly in front of me, faces up, engrossed in the story.  Still others are lying flat out on the rug or scrunched up on pillows.  I’ve been reading for over thirty minutes now and there has not been a sound, not a rustle.  I can almost feel the children’s anticipation as I get to the last page of the book and read the final three words.

A few weeks back as the children avidly speculated about what would happen to Bod, wondered whether he would see Scarlett again, questioned why Jack was after him, and worried if he would survive I asked if they’d like to hear the last three words of the book. Words, I assured them, that wouldn’t spoil anything.  Yes, they said, please!  Please! And so I read those last three words to them. They were just right. Enough to know whatever happened, the ending would be good. And it was.  I choked up reading those words, reading those last sentences, just as I always do when reading the ending of Charlotte’s Web. There is something transcendent about the endings of both books. Both are sad and happy.  They are good.  And, above all, they are satisfying.  For my students, Bod’s story ended as it should.

***

After falling in love with book last summer I was delighted to see the enthusiastic reception it received in the children’s literature world. The reviews have been glowing and it is being justifiably touted for the Newbery.  But some wondered, what will children make of it?  So I decided to read it to my nine and ten year-olds and was gratified to see that they loved the book as much as any of us grown-ups did. So much so that we’ve created a mural of the book.  We may still scatter a few of the characters (say the living, the dead, and cats) around the border, but I’m so thrilled with it and eager to show it off that I’ve gone ahead and photographed it for you to see. The top part is the graveyard, the middle section is the town, and the bottom contains the kids’ favorite creepy places — the otherworldly Ghulheim and the tomb of the Sleer (and you will have to imagine getting to this by going down, down, down below the hill of the graveyard and the town).  We purposely used different materials and styles for each section  (Tissue paper, pipe cleaners, glitter, mod podge, various patterned papers were some of the materials. My favorite material has to be the cardboard from a Kleenex tissue box used for the gravestones and book title.)

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37 Comments

Filed under Children's Literature, In the Classroom, Neil Gaiman, Reading Aloud

37 responses to “In the Classroom: The Graveyard Book

  1. I agree – it’s a wonderful book I intend to push at my kids. But Newbery? I’m hearing that parts may have been published before the book was (if that sentence makes sense) and thus renders it ineligible. I really hope that’s not the case!

  2. May he wryte forever, indeed! I love this. What a great project (and a great book)!

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Monica. I did wonder what kids would make of the book, and this level of enthusiasm about any book is lovely to see.

  4. Great post – I love the mural!

  5. Roberta

    As a parent and a Neil Gaiman fan, I have to say I think your class is really, really lucky to have you as a teacher and be involved in such a great project. I think many teachers might have shied away from a book that takes a close look at the nature of death, and, for heaven’s sake, has a vampire as a child’s guardian!

    Thanks for doing this!

  6. Congratulations to you and to your students! This project is great. “May he write forever” indeed!

  7. pKp

    You, Madam, are the best teacher ever. Seriously. I wish I could send you my little brother.

  8. Your post is so inspiring, Monica! I wish my grandsons had you for a teacher! The mural is fabulous and I can tell the kids really loved the story. Did you have groups assigned to each section of the mural? What do you think they loved most about the book?

    It is encouraging to me that at least somewhere in our land, teachers can still read aloud a book they chose and do a project like this. Here, we have to tie everything to a test and are squashing curiosity and the love of reading right out of the children.

  9. Thanks, everyone!

    I am very lucky indeed to be able to teach this way. I feel horrible for those who can’t.

    Lynn, I have the kids’ names in a teapot. I randomly took them out and the kids chose a section to work on (four or five for each). I do have to say the town section was the least popular:)

  10. This is awesome, Monica! I remember thinking as I read the Graveyard Book myself that it was an ideal read-aloud to a fourth or fifth-grade class, and I’m so glad to see I’m right! Your students are tremendously lucky, and tremendously talented.

    Maureen

  11. I first heard about this mural on the Rutgers Children’s Literature Listserv – I’m very glad you posted there! This is a fantastic project!

  12. brian4boru

    your students work is most assuredly a by-product of the time & devotion you spent reading the book to them.

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  14. Kimberly

    This is fabulous! As a Gaiman fan I have been looking forward to this book, but as a 1st year teacher/LMS I have not had a chance to pick it up yet–that will have to wait for the long break over Christmas. However, I would love to use this idea with my library students next year–I have been trying to introduce them to the Gaiman ouvre. Can you believe there was not one Gaiman title in the LMC when I started!

    thanks for sharing your great idea!

  15. jeffsdeepthoughts

    “Graveyard Book” reminds me a bit of Coraline, which will soon be a movie. It’s great to get them excited about an author who is likely to be in the public eye once the film is released. The book also has shades of Gaiman’s picture book “The Wolves in the Walls” (Did I get the title right?) These, along with Clive Barkers “The Theif of Always” and Stephen King’s “The Eyes of the Dragon” tend to get overlooked as really brilliant kids books, because the authors tend to write pretty dark material for adults. The thing that I love about them is that they don’t pander to kids.
    Like so many amazing kids books, they are just darned good books that happen to be made for kids. In a variety of ways each pushes the envelope, and contains subject matter we tend to want to shield kids from… often times to the detriment of the kids themselves.

  16. Kacey

    I just wanted to take the time to thank you for doing this for the kids in your class. I can honestly say that one of my fondest memories from school was having my fourth-grade teacher read aloud to us at the end of the day. It always makes me feel “warm and fuzzy” when I hear that other teachers are doing the same thing. I’m sure that one day the kids in your class will treasure those memories as much as I treasure mine now.

  17. wow. i’m in awe…that mural is so beautiful!

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  19. Sally

    I came here from Neil’s blog. Just wanted to tell you to congratulate those students of yours (and yourself!) for the mural. It’s magnificient! It looks exactly how I pictured the worlds in the book. I think all I learned in 4th grade was how to do “copy changes,” which was basically rewriting stories to “make them your own”…I learned how to successfully become a copyright infringer, in other words.

  20. Bev Roden

    I found the picture from Neil Gaiman’s link here. How lovely what you have done for your students, and how wonderfully creative is the mural! Hope your parent/teacher conferences are soon, and the parents appreciate the wonderful work you are doing!

  21. Cory

    This so very cool!
    I can’t wait to read the Graveyard book when my 18-month old son is a bit older. My wife and i loved the book.

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  23. jbest@dalton.org

    Great mural and fabulous postings! I can’t wait to see the mural in person. I hope some of Ms Edinger’s House members will enlighten me about the book’s themes and tell me about their efforts on the mural.

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  29. Darren

    I disagree competely with most of the comments here. While the enthusiastic dogs chase the cars, I sit back and wonder how many will be run over.

    I think it’s important to realize the potential impact reading this book has on the child who is sensitive to these topics. The issue of death is one that responsible parents should tackle. Sure the kids aren’t making a peep because half of them are scared and the parents have to comfort these kids when they get home. Come on teachers, your job is not to teach this stop overstepping your bounds.

  30. Emily

    I recently finished reading “The Graveyard Book” and although I am not a parent, I do not think this material is suitable for children. This book promotes a “grave” outlook on the value of a human life and there is nothing that resonates as true or beautiful in the novel. This book drips with the idea that a human life is of no value; you die and exist in a graveyard, as a ghost, for all eternity. Should children really read novels like this? Imagine a society full of people who believe that a human life is worthless, a piece of trash that can easily be crumpled up and thrown away. Do we want to encourage this in our society? You would have to be blind not to perceive that this is already happening.

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  33. Sarra Eltaib

    i have been reading the graveyard book this a really great and thinkable book it great for kids not for adults because this a book about a child who’s family has been murdered

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