Children's Authors/Neil Gaiman

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Biographical Information[edit]

Gaiman-headshot.jpg

Gaiman was born in Portchester, England in 1960. A voracious reader, as a youth Gaiman read the entire children’s section of his local library [1]. His rapacious reading built a foundation for his future writings. As a teenager, Gaiman attended Whitgift School, an all-boys boarding school, with all the proper British trappings. He declared his desire to write comic books to the guidance counselor, but was instructed to go into accounting. He was so crushed that he abandoned comic books for several years [2]. After graduating high school, Gaiman worked as a journalist for British newspapers and magazines. In the 1980’s he married and began writing short stories. In the mid 1980’s he fulfilled his childhood wish to write comic books, eventually giving rise to his hit series, Sandman [3]. This series is called "exciting and highly literate" by academics who tout Sandman's worthiness for the classroom [4]. In the end Gaiman stayed true to his dream of being a comic book writer, which paid off. His fondness for myths and classical literature inspires his many diverse tales from his popular graphic novel series, Sandman, to his picture books, short stories and novels. Gaiman currently lives in the U.S. and has many upcoming projects including movies and television series. For more information on Neil Gaiman visit his website: http://www.neilgaiman.com/.

Books of Interest[edit]

The Graveyard Book (2008) is a quirky, spooky and engaging novel about a boy raised by graveyard ghosts and is the winner of the 2009 John Newbery Medal. After escaping a brutal act committed upon his family, a toddler is raised by the long ago dead inhabitants of a nearby cemetery. Nobody Owens, “Bod” for short, is protected and schooled by the various spirits of the graveyard. Gaiman’s use of dialogue, British accents, antiquated terms and grammar, “Plague –pits is good eatin’,” give the feel of being in a Dickensian netherworld. Gaiman writes with fun alliteration and well styled sentences. The reader delves into diverse experiences from the creepy world of scavenging ghouls in carrion constructed dwellings under an oozy red sky, to the suspense of the modern world as Bod “fades” and “dreamwalks” on his quest in the city outside the graveyard. Gaiman spins together polar emotions of fear and poignancy, humor and loneliness in an unusual story.

The Wolves in the Walls (2003) Lucy hears wolves in the walls of their old house, but she gets no answer from family other than “When the wolves come out it’s all over.” It’s a bit of Goldilocks turned inside out. This picture book is multi-modal with fun play in font size, paneled pictures along with full page pictures and captivating play on light against a tuba, a crackling fire and candle lit faces in the darkness. The human characters are wood carvings against richly colored furnishings. The wolves are expressively illustrated as they try on the family’s wardrobe and play the family’s instruments. The story offers multiple themes concerning the nature of truth, beliefs, fear and bravery. For great philosophical questions that could spark good discussions connected to this book see Ariel Sykes'website, http://www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org/wiki/The_Wolves_in_the_Walls.

M is for Magic (2007) You may chuckle or you may shiver reading this intriguing collection of short stories. Once again Gaiman’s clever use of dialogue is displayed as a hard-boiled detective takes the case from a curvy dame who “would have induced heavy breathing in a pumpkin” and searches to discover who pushed Humpty Dumpty off the wall. Gaiman also shows comedic skills in a story revolving around the irony of Sir Galaad on a quest for the Holy Grail which sits on the mantel in an elderly woman’s home. Rather than smiting enemies, he must endure Mrs. Whittaker’s many tasks such as putting slugs over the back fence and moving cases in her storage room. Gaiman maintains his eerie touch in a tale involving a stray black cat that sleeps on a family’s porch each night but each day shows worsening wounds of some dark, nightly battle. In another story, a creepy jack-in-the-box has strange powers over the children that avoid it by day but are drawn to it at night. Whether the stories are humorous or spooky, Gaiman’s juxtaposition of reality and fantasy creates mesmerizing stories.

Odd and the Frost Giants (2009) is a whimsical tale about a Norse boy, Odd, who encounters three creatures in the forest. In this twist on Norse mythology, Gaiman uses his strong vocabulary to create scenes that are interesting and accessible to his upper elementary-age audience. His skilled use of conversation also draws in the reader and builds the characters. The book is illustrated by Brett Helquist, whose artwork enlivens scenes from the text. It’s not likely that Odd’s story is well-known, but Gaiman tells the story as if any one of his readers could know Odd and relate to him.

Several of Gaiman’s works have been made into movies, one of which is his book Coraline (2002). This book carries a creepy air that fits well with the story of the young girl exploring her new world. Gaiman uses dialogue in his narrative to define characters and hint at plot points. Coraline exhibits unexpected insights as she travels, and Gaiman often illustrates these insights through her conversations with other characters. Children looking for a scary thrill will enjoy following Coraline as she explores a new world in order to do what is right. Illustrations are done by Dave McKean.

Another book-to-film story by Gaiman is Stardust (1999). A fantastic tale about travel and adventure, Gaiman uses figurative language and creative dialogue to create scenes and develop characters. As Gaiman develops the story and his characters, he uses an extended vocabulary to achieve clarity. A young man embarks on a quest to make his love happy, and finds something else in the process. Gaiman's insights into people are shown in the character's own mind as Gaiman portrays him through the story. His use of words provides a colorful narrative for the adventures in story. This unique adventure tale will appeal to the adolescent reader.

Gaiman and Michael Reaves collaborated to write a novel, and their book, Interworld (2007), is a first-person perspective on interdimensional travel and relations. The protagonist talks to the reader as if he were telling the story face to face. His insight into the situations that surround him are impressive. The authors use a fair amount of dialogue and figurative language to tell the story and engage the readers. Joey, the main character, is real and personable because he reveals his thoughts. Teenage readers can connect with Joey and share in his extraordinary experience.

Author's Style[edit]

Gaiman mixes genres of realistic fiction, fantasy, and horror often in the same work. Gaiman’s dialogue is snappy, clever and entertaining. Among the influences on Gaiman’s writing are myths, classical literature and fairy tales. Jack Frost is a hit man in The Graveyard Book along with several other famous Jacks-of-all-trades. In the short story, “The Case of the Four and Twenty Black Birds” Little Jack Horner crops up as a private detective who interviews Cock Robin along the way to find Humpty Dumpty’s killer. In the short story, “Chivalry,” Sir “Galaad” kneels before the Holy Grail which rests on a senior citizen’s fireplace mantel. In “The Price” the focus is an embattled black cat, reminiscent of Poe’s black cat but with a twist. Gaiman has an uncanny ability to combine horror, fantasy, comedy and pathos. Gaiman consistently demonstrates a wonderful ability to use expansive vocabulary and well-written dialogue to develop his characters and stories. He creates imaginative storylines and shows that the world of fantasy isn’t defined, but can be molded and shaped into situations and worlds that are unlike any other. Gaiman’s writings are not all similar and not even intended for audiences of similar ages, but he encourages exploration, being true to self, and willingness to take on challenges.

References[edit]

  1. Encyclopedia of World Biography http://www.notablebiographies.com/news/Ca-Ge/Gaiman-Neil.html
  2. Olson, S. P. (2005). Neil gaiman: The library of graphic novelists. (1st ed., p. 14). New York, NY: Rosen Publishing Group. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=Jc9MaZrG3j8C&source=gbs_navlinks_s
  3. Encyclopedia of World Biography http://www.notablebiographies.com/news/Ca-Ge/Gaiman-Neil.html
  4. Versaci, R. (2001). How comic books can change the way our students see literature: One teacher's perspective. National Council of Teachers of English, 91(2), 64.

Gaiman, N. (2008). The graveyard book. (1st ed., p. 307). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Gaiman, N. (2003). The wolves in the walls. (1st ed.). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.  :Illustrator McKean, Dave

Gaiman, N. (2007). M is for magic. (1st ed., p. 260). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Gaiman, N. & Reaves, M. (2007). InterWorld. (1st ed.). New york, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Gaiman, N. (2009). Odd and the frost giants. (1st ed.) New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. Illustrator Helquist, Brett

Gaiman, N. (1999). Stardust. (1st ed.) New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Gaiman, N. (2002). Coraline. (1st ed.) New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. :Illustrator McKean, Dave