Spooky season is here, so it’s time to get into the Halloween spirit. Even though the books Coraline and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman are children’s books, that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth reading as an adult. The reading level means they’re a manageable read to fit into your busy academic and social schedules, and the emotional and character depth Gaiman can achieve with his seemingly limited sentence structure is phenomenal. He is a master of balancing macabre themes with the magic of childhood. Also, the books are still spooky as heck despite being marketed to children. Actually, they might be creepier since they’re written for children.
Case in point: one of the first lines of The Graveyard Book is “The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.” If that doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will. And it only gets spookier from there. The Graveyard Book follows the adventures of Nobody (Bod) Owens, a human child who lives in a graveyard with his ghost foster family after a mysterious person named Jack (referred to as “the man Jack”) murders his family. Bod struggles with being trapped in the graveyard for his own safety from the man Jack because he wants to explore and connect to real people. Gaiman perfectly weaves themes of identity, isolation and family into a story that will make you wish that, like Bod, you had grown up in a magical graveyard filled with ghosts and other haunting creatures.
What makes The Graveyard Book really stand out for me is that Bod has an emotional complexity and maturity that’s apparent in the ways he interacts with the characters around him and defines for himself what family is. At the same time, Bod feels like a real child because he has a level of youthful optimism and naivety that makes me nostalgic for my own childhood.
That sense of childhood nostalgia is multiplied in Coraline, an eclectic patchwork of whimsy, mystery, and suspense. For anyone who’s watched the spectacular movie adaptation of Coraline, the book is even better because while the movie captures the feeling of the book, the book has the extra little details that make the story and heroine so lovable. The story follows the adventures of Coraline Jones, a girl who has just moved into a house with very eccentric neighbors, including two retired actresses with dozens of dogs, and a man who claims to have a mouse circus. Things only get weirder from there. Coraline discovers a door in her house that leads to a world just like her own, except it’s seemingly better in every way. The only thing that’s not perfect? Her other parents have black button eyes, and they want Coraline to join them.
Coraline is relatable because it’s about finding contentment in the world you’re living in instead of searching for something that might seem better on the surface, but is actually not what you truly want. Coraline is a bit of an oddball who is trying to fit in, and everyone, especially kids, has felt that way before: isolated, ignored and invisible. It’s also a story about love and courage and the lengths you will go to save the ones you love. There’s a certain magic in following Coraline’s adventures around her new home and discovering its secrets with her. In every nook there’s something extraordinary, and in every cranny there’s the shadow of something threatening. The world Gaiman weaves in Coraline is one that has stuck with me since I read the book for the first time in third grade, and it’s the kind of book that embeds itself in you and won’t let go because every time you read it, there’s something new to draw from the story. Coraline’s perspective of the world is one that you won’t want to let go for a long time, and it’s a good reminder of the complexities and struggles we face in daily life.
We really don’t give children enough credit for the emotional depths they can understand, and reading these books is a reminder of that because even now they are powerful reads. So if you want to get into the Halloween spirit, grab some hot chocolate, curl up with a blanket, play some Halloween music, and get reading.