Monday, January 26, 2009

OMG, Librarians are really Hip

"The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Dave McKean

Bookstores and libraries beware! Prepare for a mad dash of children coming in search of the 2009 Newbery Award winner, instead of just the usual crowd of well-meaning parents, guardians, nannies, and other individuals with constipated expressions searching for "legitimate" children's books to thrust onto book clubs.

Kids reading for fun and excitement in the post-Harry Potter era: What a concept! After years of selecting novels that gather dust on bookshelves after the initial hype has blown them out to sea, and with the debate raging about its own relevancy for kids in today's marketplace, The Newbery Award committee threw the betting crowd a real long shot when it bestowed this year's honor on "The Graveyard Book."

Who would have thunk that writer Neil Gaiman and his longtime illustrator, Dave McKean, would win the top children's book prize of 2008? Remember these are children's librarians who issued this award. The guardians of civility, top drawer manners, and "no talking at any time" are suddenly going rogue and kicking off their orthopedics; unbuttoning the top fastener of their "Little House on the Prairie" blouses; letting their buns down; and handing out their most important literary emblem to the geniuses behind The Sandman. Now roaming the halls of the San Diego Comic Book Convention really does have literary merit, Mom.

But anyone who has been following the careers of these Englishmen know they have wandered into the realm of children's literature before. There was The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish (1998); The Wolves in the Walls (2003); and, of course, the much heralded, Coraline (2002), soon to be a major motion picture. All well worth the time to find, to read, to savor.

I've stood in line dozens of times at comic book conventions for Gaiman and McKean's autographs because I am a geek and this is a far more exciting thing to do on a Saturday's than ironing more wrinkles into shirts. Somewhere in the black hole I call my apartment, I have an original piece of artwork from Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth that I purchased more than 20 years ago when comic book artwork was not bathed in gold. The piece is dark; it is horrifying in its intensity; it makes your skin crawl and your teeth rattle. That's why for years I hung it in my bathroom, so I could study it when I didn't feel like reading.

Gaiman is an amazing writer; McKean is a phenomenal illustrator. It's comforting to know that we old time graphic novel readers have something now in common with today's Vanessa Bruno clad librarians. I wonder if they will still force us to "shush" in the library?


  1. I had not heard about the Newbery going to a graphic novel. I for one will be sure to check it out.

  2. A children's librarianJanuary 27, 2009 at 2:36 PM

    Nobody would shush if I wore such beautiful clothes with plunging necklines on the job. We librarians tend to have more modest budgets (and taste).

    Nice post though.

  3. Thank you for the posts. I will be doing more on children's literature in the future as that is one of my passions.

  4. ...And we're getting hipper by the day!

  5. Librarians fight for freedom of expression, freedom of informational choices, for the preservation of all human knowledge, the good the bad and the idiotic--

    How can they not be cool?

    But you are right. This year's Newbery will get lots of kid-readers reading. Any book that convinces them books are worth opening is a very good thing.

    Last year's winner, though it was brilliant, written by the best oral storyteller I have ever heard, probably didn't.


  6. Let's hope Hollywood doesn't bungle the adaptation. Very curious next week to see what the movie medium has done with Coraline.