The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman has quickly become a book that many 4th and 5th grade students are enjoying. It is a book that is probably best read aloud. It just “sounds” great. Many teachers are finding that reading some sections aloud to the students each day is a great way to keep everyone reading and caught up with the story.
The story is about a toddler who wondered away after Jack murdered his parents and siblings. Jack knows he is still “out there” but can not find him. Mr. and Mrs. Owens took in the child. They named the child Nobody Owens, but everyone just calls him Bod.
While Bod has Mr. and Mrs. Owens to raise him, there are plenty of others to help teach and nurture the child. Bod lives mostly in the graveyard and is tutored by spirits, ghosts, a wolf woman and other dead and undead characters.
Bod lives in both worlds. He learns the tools to survive in the graveyard and in the outside world.
So what can students learn from this book and what are some learning activities?
It is a great opportunity to talk about different kinds of families. Talk about how there are all kinds of families. Allow students to make two collages. One collage will show their family as they see it now. They can have their immediate families and others that help them learn and grow. The second collage shows five other people, things, animals, or super heroes they would add to their family if they could.
Family is often much bigger than blood-related people.
Different animals have very different family hierarchy. Divide the class into small groups and assign them the learn about the “family” relationships of different animals. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
Learn about headstones and epitaphs
Have the students write epitaphs for fictional characters. (This way no feelings get involved). Encourage them not to use the names and see if classmates can guess who the epitaph is written for. Here are some characters: Cat in the Hat, Donald Duck, Harry Potter, Peter Pan, Mickey Mouse, Prince Charming and perhaps even some characters from other recent books read in class.
Writing prompts are a great way for students to use their imagination. In most elementary classes the writing prompts are turned in to the teacher who repairs spelling, grammar, prints the information to make it reading material for the entire class. It is fun to see how creative students can be.
For example the very first line of the book is “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” In one class the writing prompt was given before the book was started. Lets look at some of the few few sentences of the writing prompt assignments.
“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. A spoon is a better way to get the peanut butter out of the jar. But when you are sneaking in the dark to make a sandwich a knife will do. It is important to be quiet, or your sister will think she needs one too.”
“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. It was only a hand. The rest of the body was gone.”
Or give them more directed writing prompts.
– Silas gave Bod this piece of advice “life is potential” . What does that mean in your life?
– If you could learn to fade like Bod, what would you do?
-Bod has boundaries between the living world and the dead world. What boundaries are in your life?
– Draw a new book cover for The Graveyard Book and explain the picture.
There are many ways to help students enjoy books. Sometimes they will come up with the best learning activities.