Neil Gaiman's "Graveyard Book" Wins Newbery Medal for Children's Literature

By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Neil Gaiman won the most prestigious writing award in American children's literature yesterday for a book that begins with a sinister triple knifing. But what his novel is really about, Gaiman said, is "community and the nature of family."

"The Graveyard Book," which won the American Library Association's Newbery Medal, is the story of a toddler orphaned by the murders who ends up being raised in a graveyard by caring ghosts.

News of the award made the versatile novelist, graphic novelist and screenwriter -- who said he thinks of himself as a literary "outsider" -- want to show up at the next ALA convention "bringing flowers for every librarian."

The Caldecott Medal for children's book illustration went to Beth Krommes for "The House in the Night," a picture book aimed at the same audience as "Goodnight Moon." The Printz Award for young adult literature went to Melina Marchetta for her boarding-school novel "Jellicoe Road."

Kadir Nelson won the Coretta Scott King writing award for "We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball." Nelson, a much-honored illustrator, said it was the first book he had ever written as well as illustrated.

The 2009 children's literature awards were announced in Denver at the American Library Association's midwinter meeting.

Gaiman is one of those writers who seems able to do anything. He has published well-received adult fiction such as "American Gods," children's chapter books such as "Coraline" and picture books such as "The Wolves in the Walls." He co-wrote the screenplay for "Beowulf." In comics circles, he is celebrated for the "Sandman" series of graphic novels.

"Batman" fans, meanwhile, should stay tuned: Gaiman said the Newbery hoopla interrupted work on a comic that may involve the demise (at least temporarily) of the beloved superhero.

Why so many literary forms?

"At the end of the day, I'm a storyteller," Gaiman said. He knows a lot of people who define themselves as novelists, short story writers or film writers, but "I love being able to move from medium to medium."

Right now, on top of everything else, he's working on a nonfiction book about China.

The English-born Gaiman got the idea for "The Graveyard Book" more than two decades ago when his son, Mike, needed a place to ride his tricycle. They ended up in a Sussex churchyard, where Gaiman watched the boy pedal happily among centuries-old gravestones and thought, "You know, he looks really at home here."

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