The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book CoverWith a blurb by Diana Wynne Jones on the front stating “The best book Neil Gaiman has ever written,” I may have started reading The Graveyard Book with high expectations because that is high praise from a very talented author. I must admit the association did make me think of this book as the most Diana-Wynne-Jones-like book that Neil Gaiman has written if that makes any sense. I hope it does and that alone I think is praise in itself.

Though this wasn’t my favorite Neil Gaiman book, it is a solid story that I think likely resonates well with many younger readers while older readers probably understand more of the vague references to supernatural elements.

This book is the story of Nobody “Bod” Owens. He is a boy who is raised in a graveyard. The circumstances of his situation are rather dark and the opening of the book does well to avoid any gruesome details, but Bod is a toddler when is family is killed by a man named Jack. What follows is Bod’s story among the residents of the graveyard and occasional lessons with the living. His experience is unique and the lessons he learns are lessons for us all.

The mystery behind Bod’s guardian, Silas, as well as the man named Jack present a unique knowledge of the world as it once was and what it could become. It is an ancient knowledge that remains hidden from the living world yet remains tied to it. There is definitely a larger story happening beyond Bod’s point of view.

I actually bought this book in a collection alongside Coraline and Fortunately, The Milk with all three illustrated by Chris Riddell. This was the last of the collection I read but I enjoyed all of them. I will likely read this book to my own children when they are a bit older.

Happy Reading.

Banned Books On The Rise

I hate to see that more and more books are being banned in the United States. According to a recent report by PEN America, the number of individual book bans across the country increased by 28 percent during the first half of the 2022-23 school year compared to the prior six months. My recent book recommendation of Maus resulted from it being banned and thus coming to my attention and interest. Here are a few infographics from PEN America on location and subject matter of recently banned books.

In many cases, books are banned or challenged in groups of sometimes up to 100+ at a time. I believe the likelihood that those who sit on panels, the ones deciding whether to ban a book or not, do not read even a small percentage of the books they are making a decision about. They likely view some page or paragraph out of context and make a decision based on a recommendation put forth by a member of the community who didn’t understand the material or possibly didn’t even read it themselves. I personally think it is hilarious that some clever people are using new legislation meant to protect/promote book bans to ban the Bible. A woman in Utah got fed up with many books being challenged when religious texts received a free pass while containing the exact type of subject matter.

I would never promote the ban or challenge of any book because removing a book from shelves doesn’t remove the idea or subject it discusses, but it does remove an individual’s choice to read that book. Perhaps it is a book that would become very important to them, perhaps it wouldn’t, and perhaps they never would have read it anyway. The issue these book bans present is a precedent to censor and hide information from people who would otherwise benefit from it. Most people challenging books are parents, and I get it as I am also a parent, but if I don’t want my child to read something then I would make that decision individually (though I’m never going to prevent my kids from reading anything) and not have the book removed from a library so no one would have access to it. It is similar to the saying “I’m on a diet, so you can’t have cake.” It’s selfish and doesn’t make much sense if you look at it objectively. I understand subject matter can be questionable and you can make cases for or against limiting access to certain materials with respect to children, but ultimately it is a case-by-case basis and the responsibility of the parent to make the decision for their individual kid. They should not be making the decision for other kids, especially if their parents do not have an issue with them reading the material.

Some people seem to be more afraid of books or ideas than they are of guns, or perhaps they are more afraid of putting their children at risk of facing a book than the barrel of a gun. This may seem harsh, but the majority of book bans are happening within education systems. Why compare books against guns? Because the discussions to ban guns in this country always hits a wall and nothing happens even though we have systems that literally track mass shootings and even shootings within schools (view the K-12 School Shooting Database or the Gun Violence Archive). In the first four months of 2023, guns have claimed more than 11,000 lives in the U.S. I’m not writing any of this to be “political,” I’m only trying to point out the absurdity of priorities happening across the country especially since history shows that ideas persist beyond any number of bullets.

The rise of book bans is very concerning to me because I believe it is more about removing/censoring information or content than about “protecting” young minds. The world is a messed up place and letting children believe that everything is okay, and have them simply accept what adults designate as dangerous, is going to make things worse, because everything is not okay. Certain groups get persecuted regularly usually based on archaic ideology that persists because people refuse to learn or accept that not everyone is exactly like them and don’t want the same things. It is a big world out there and banning books only makes it harder for kids to be prepared to face the harsh realities they will encounter as they grow older. Banning books to limit a child’s view of the world only promotes the archaic ideology that allows the view that certain people are less than human to persist, and thus the continued persecution of these people. We need to break the cycle and let kids openly see the world that they live in so they can decide how to change the future for the better.

My hope is that children find the books they need and read widely and continuously. I hope you take a similar stance and stand up to book bans, and even read those books that are being restricted to better understand what ideas are trying to be limited or extinguished. The world is too big and full of wonder to be viewed only through a microscope.


MausMaus by Art Spiegelman, published over the course of 11 years, covers the story of Art Spiegelman’s father during the second World War and how he survived the Holocaust. This was the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize (1992). The story is a mix of Art talking with his father and having his father tell his story. It is also a quasi-memoir of Art’s creation of the comic itself.

You can get the complete collection in one volume. I read a two-volume version with each being about 140 pages, but as a graphic novel it reads really quickly especially since the story is enthralling. You can easily read it all in one sitting if you don’t need to take a break from some of the heavier scenes.

I may have never heard of this book or picked it up except it was in the news as part of the increasing number of book bans happening in the United States. It is a powerful, true story that I am glad I read. Banning a book is just recommending that book to me.

I looked up why this book was banned and there are a few excuses put forth. One being the use (less than a handful of instances) of “coarse” language as well as the depiction of a nude woman (one instance in an extremely non-sexual manner). Other reasons included descriptions of people being killed, hanging from trees, committing suicide, and the murder of children. This is a true story depicting real events. These things happened in Europe during World War II. Ultimately, Maus was banned in Tennessee for the first reason listed consisting of coarse language and nudity. Though I was glad to hear that the books, after being removed from schools, were donated to libraries and students have been circulating the story as a result of the ban. Perhaps they are even reading it more readily than prior to the ban.

Art Spiegelman himself commented on the ban and suggested that the board who implemented the ban wanted to teach “a nicer Holocaust.” A powerful yet accurate statement. History is viewed through a lens whether we like it or not. Sometimes the lens is broken, sometimes it is blurry, sometimes people never look through it, and sometimes people try to cover it altogether so we can’t see a truth they would rather avoid. The Holocaust is one of the best-recorded atrocities the human race has committed against itself. Some people have a hard time believing much or any of it actually happened. Those who deny it only pave the road for it to happen again.

One reason I think this book is important is also one of my biggest issues with it (though it’s not a real “issue” per se). The comic format, especially using animals for different nationalities/etc., makes it easier to read the story and allows visual cues (such as a Jew pretending not to be a Jew in order to survive), but it also makes it easier for the reader to forget that it is a recording of true events. The reader could imagine it as simply a work of fiction. This is a double-edges knife because it makes the story more accessible and easier to experience especially for more empathetic persons, but it risks the reality of it being lost within the art.

The choice of medium may have been the only way Art Spiegelman could get the story down. It didn’t seem to be easy for him and understandably so. However, I am grateful he did finish and get the work out into the world. This is an important story to be told.

I hate to see books being banned, but I am happy to see people (kids in particular) using the ban itself as a reason to read the material. Perhaps it will encourage you to read it as well.

Happy Reading.


Orange 1Orange is a story by Ichigo Takano that follows a group of high school friends. I have not seen the show but have heard about this story multiple times and it always sounded interesting. The main character, Naho, is a young woman in high school who receives a letter from herself ten years in the future. She thinks it is a prank at first until the events detailed in the letter come true one after another. The letter talks about regrets her future-self has regarding certain events that are about to happen in the upcoming school year. The letter also details what she wished she had done differently. The primary regret is the loss of one of their friends, and the letter guides Naho to make changes so as to change the future.

With elements of time-travel, the story is intriguing through to the end. The group of friends is filled with colorful, unique characters who provide a wholesome experience as they all work toward the one goal of saving someone they hold dear.

Orange 2I read this story in the two-volume Complete Collection. Though there were times where I didn’t quite understand some character interactions (the primary conflict being the inability or failure to communicate felt repetitive or forced at times), I really did enjoy the story and gave it a small pass when it tried to explain or hint at how the letters were sent back in time. I think that was actually irrelevant to the overall story and explaining it would have taken away much of what the story was trying to accomplish. The focus is the group of friends and them treasuring the lives they have with each other and the time they get to spend together. The time-travel aspect is interesting and is a catalyst to the events of the story, but the focus on interpersonal relationships and communication is what makes this story worth a read.

If you’ve ever been in a situation where you wondered if things would have turned out differently if only you had said something or taken the time to better understand someone, then this story is likely one you will enjoy. Just remember, you can’t change the past, but you can make the effort to influence your future.

Happy Reading.

Neil Gaiman Accepts the 2023 St. Louis Literary Award

I was lucky enough to attend the presentation of the 2023 St. Louis Literary Award to Neil Gaiman this past week. I’ve been a big fan of Gaiman’s work for some time and even went a bit out of my way to see him about five years ago when he visited Kansas University. He is included in my list of influential authors in the On Authors section of this blog. The St. Louis Literary Award is presented by Saint Louis University (SLU), so this was a little closer to home for me and I was thrilled at the opportunity to go. The award was presented Thursday evening on April 13th and a follow-up Craft Talk was held on April 14th. I attended both and bought probably too many signed copies of his books including books I already had at home on the shelf.

Despite living near St. Louis nearly all my life, I never even knew the St. Louis Literary Award existed until this year. The award began in 1967 and has been awarded to Margaret Atwood, Stephen Sondheim, Salmon Rushdie, Joan Didion, Chinua Achebe, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tennessee Williams to name a few. And now it has been awarded to Neil Gaiman.

Neil is a treasure and it is always fun to listen to him give talks or answer questions, and it is also fun to read his books. I’ve put a few that I have not yet read in my list of books to read soon, including The Graveyard Book after he talked about how long it took him to finally write it (25 years from idea to publication!). SLU recorded both sessions mentioned above, and I’ve included the award presentation below (as it was the only one available at the time of this post) for you to view if you wish so you can get part of the experience I had. Being in person is quite different than a recording, but sometimes we have to settle for less or nothing at all I guess. Similar to how a story is always different on paper than what you have/had in your head.

The day before he accepted the award, or perhaps that very day, it was announced that Neil was on Time‘s list of 100 most influential people of 2023 (talk about timing!). Both accomplishments are well deserved and add to Neil’s long list of awards and recognitions. Despite it all, he is a humble man who still feels imposter syndrome. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you’d prefer to hear things from Neil himself.