28 January 2009

Newbery not Newbury

For those not in the know: Neil Gaiman = Love.
And the good people who are in charge of awarding the Newbery Medal obviously agree seeing as The Graveyard Book was just announced as the 2009 winner. Can I get a hells yeah? This news made me breathe a sign of relief...perhaps not all is lost in the world of children's book awards. To elaborate...

For the past couple of years there has been a worrying trend in the winners of children's book awards such as the Newbery Medal, and the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards. The books being named as winners are often not books which are suitable (or enjoyable!) for children to read. Take last year's winner of the CBCA Picture Book of the Year award: Requiem for a Beast by Matt Ottley. While this book is indeed stunning to look at, and visually powerful, it was described by the CBCA judges themselves as 'neither a comfortable nor a happy read'. Now I am the last person who would ever say that picture books are just for children, there are numerous picture books, Ottley's included, which you have to be an older reader to understand. However, I feel that an award put out by the CBCA should honour books which are in fact suitable for children. Similarly, last year's winner of the Newbery Medal, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schiltz, has been described as 'a book most children would find inaccessible'.
Basically, who cares if kids are scared/confused/bewildered... the important thing is the book 'has a message'.

So...The Graveyard Book...
When he was just a baby, Nobody 'Bod' Owens managed to escape from the (sociopathic) killer who murdered the rest of his family. He wanders into the nearby graveyard where the local ghosts decide to take him in. He is raised halfway between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and educated by a nomadic vampire. This is Gaiman's answer to Kipling's The Jungle Book. Instead of Baloo the Bear, we have Silas the Undead. Told in a similar episodic manner to The Jungle Book, we get to see Bod slowly grow up, and come to the realisation that perhaps he isn't the most normal of children.

You have only to read Gaiman's profanity laden reaction to the news that he won the Newbery to realise that perhaps he isn't what most people would think of when they picture a children's book author, but his books are always right on target.

So go out and read it now, I promise you won't regret it.

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