The Newbery Medal for children's literature went to Neil Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book" last week, and there seemed to immediately be a lot of hand-wringing about the decision -- a book with a family slaughtered by a knife-wielding murderer, an infant in peril, vampires, werewolves and ghosts, oh my!
It's not an historical novel. It's not about a real person. In fact, it's about a boy named Nobody. And, as Gaiman has said, it's about "the nature of family." But is it a book for kids?
Gaiman's got nothing on those Brothers Grimm, who sent Hansel and Gretel off into the woods because their parents couldn't feed them and into the arms of the witch who wanted to make a meal out of them. Now there's a cheery tale.
I was talking to the writer about another story of his, "Coraline," which went from a novel to a graphic novel to a 3-D film by Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas") opening Friday and may become a stage musical. "Coraline," like "The Graveyard Book," has elements of horror and has a child as the hero.
Because of that, he initially had trouble getting the story published.
"I wrote the first 10,000 words, gave it to my editor in London who looked at and said this is the best thing you've written so far, but it is, of course, unpublishable. I said, 'Why?' " Gaiman told me.
"And he said, "Well, you've written a novel that seems to be a horror story for children. We don't publish those. And you've written something that's obviously aimed at both adults and children, I don't know how to publish that.
"So I put it aside for a while. And approximately six or seven years later, I thought, I really want to finish that story. And I sent the manuscript to my editor in America, and she read it and she phoned me up and she said, "What happens next?"
"I said, 'Send me a contract and we will both find out.' "
Although Gaiman said he began writing the story for his young daughter and finished it for his younger daughter, he also said the idea of stories like "Coraline" and "The Graveyard Book" "isn't about excluding adults. It's about including children."
In the end, it's all about the storytelling -- and in the case of Gaiman, it comes from a writer who inspires adults and children, and artists and filmmakers. So picking a novelist who also writes about Batman and Beowulf and mythological creatures instead of a biographer or historian or educator acknowledges that the award is for literature. And a great story is a great story. Any kid knows that.