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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Teacher Guide by Bridget Baudinet

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The Graveyard Book Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Graveyard Book Include:

Neil Gaiman’s Gothic fantasy The Graveyard Book is a unique and compelling adventure. As it follows the life of a boy raised by the dead, the story manages to provide powerful messages for its living readers. Orphaned as a baby, Nobody “Bod” Owens relies on his ghostly parents and guardian to protect him from a mysterious assassin that lurks in the world beyond the graveyard. As Bod matures, the novel provides the reader with a series of entertaining episodes that explore the meaning of love, friendship, courage, and growing up.

The Graveyard Book Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Graveyard Book Plot Diagram


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



Example The Graveyard Book Plot Diagram

Exposition

When a sinister assassin attempts to murder a family of four, the family’s young toddler escapes to the nearby graveyard. After his mother’s spirit pleads for help, the ghosts agree to raise the toddler and protect him from the deadly threat. The elderly Owens ghosts adopt him and raise him as Nobody Owens. A mysterious being named Silas acts as his guardian and a link between the worlds of the living and the dead.


Conflict

Although the dead acknowledge that Bod is a living boy and want him to have a full life, it is unsafe for him to leave the graveyard. Because the sinister man still seeks to kill him, Bod’s freedom is limited and he is unable to fully experience life.


Rising Action

Bod grows up with the Freedom of the Graveyard, allowing him to share many of the abilities of the dead. He learns lessons and makes friends with the ghosts around him. As he ages, however, he longs to know more about the living world and begins to test his boundaries by leaving the graveyard, going to school, and making friends with a living girl named Scarlett.


Climax

The assassin and his cronies, the Jacks of All Trade, chase Bod and Scarlett into the graveyard. One by one, Bod outwits them and uses his privileges of the graveyard to trap them. In a final showdown, he tricks Jack Frost in the barrow beneath the Frobisher mausoleum so that the Sleer drag him away forever.


Falling Action

Now that the Jacks are eliminated, Bod is safe. Silas permits Bod to leave the graveyard with him and continues to guide and support him for one more year in the graveyard.


Resolution

At fifteen, Bod is fully grown and loses his Freedom of the Graveyard. He says goodbye to his family and friends and heads off to begin life in the land of the living.



(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of The Graveyard Book.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  3. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  4. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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The Graveyard Book Characters

As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!


The Graveyard Book Characters

  • Nobody Owens
  • Mr. Owens
  • Mrs. Owens
  • Silas
  • Scarlett Amber Perkins
  • Liza Hempstock
  • Jack Frost
  • Mrs. Lupescu
  • Mo Quilling and Nick Farthing

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The Graveyard Book Themes, Symbols, and Motifs


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Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.


The Graveyard Book Themes to Look For and Discuss

Growing Up

The Graveyard Book is the story of a boy growing into a man. It spans most of Bod's childhood and ends when he is old enough to start out on his own. The book traces his growth as it depicts snippets of his life as a toddler, a child, and a teenager. Bod makes mistakes, learns from them, and grows up to be a wise and brave young man.


Free Will vs. Fate

The Jacks try to kill Bod and his family due to a prophecy. When circumstances shape Bod's life to align with the prophecy, it seems that Bod's fate may be controlled by forces beyond his control. In the barrow, however, he discovers that fighting the Jacks will be based on his own choice about his identity, not some uncontrollable fate.


The Importance of Community

Although Silas and Mr. and Mrs. Owens play the most direct role in raising Bod, the entire graveyard helps in many ways. They all vote in the initial decision to take in Bod. As time goes on, different ghosts provide advice and companionship. In the final showdown against the Jacks, the various inhabitants of the graveyard all play a role in supporting Bod.


The Graveyard Book Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Graveyard Gate

The gate marks the boundary of Bod's existence for most of his childhood. It is a sign both of security and of limitation. The locked gate protects Bod from the dangers of the world. At the same time, however, it also confines him to the graveyard and prevents him from fully enjoying the experiences of the living. The graveyard is like the protective home of childhood, and passing through the gate at the end is symbolic of Bod's maturity and independence.


Lady on the Grey

The Lady on the Grey represents death. The suggestion that all humans will eventually "ride her horse" indicates that she represents a kind of spiritual travel from the land of the living to the land of the dead. Her influence over the ghosts in their decision to take in Bod also reflects her power over the dead.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The Graveyard Book. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Graveyard Book you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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The Graveyard Book Important Episodes

Like The Jungle Book, The Graveyard Book uses an episodic structure, jumping from year to year and depicting Bod’s various experiences growing up. Some of the episodes are merely entertaining, while others contribute to important themes, character growth, or conflict resolution. Have students use storyboards to identify important episodes in Bod’s life. Below each episode, ask them to explain its significance. Simplify or expand this activity by using anywhere from 1-5 storyboard cells.


The Graveyard Book Important Episodes

Befriending Scarlett

Scarlett is the first living friend that Bod makes. Their friendship begins when they are five and is redeveloped when they are young teens. Scarlett's friendship is significant because it drives Bod toward maturity. Through Scarlett, he discovers the secret of his past. Her safety also motivates him to successfully fight the Jacks of all Trade. Finally, the experience of her friendship leads him to desire life outside the graveyard.


Captured by Ghouls

Being captured by ghouls teaches Bod an important lesson. Suddenly, Bod comes to respect Mrs. Lupescu and the training she gave him. His narrow escape from the ghouls teaches him to trust the adults who guide and protect him. It also opens his eyes to the dangers that surround him.


Fighting Mo and Nick

Fighting Mo and Nick reveals Bod's kind heart and sense of justice. He sets out to haunt them in order to put an end to their bullying. At the same time, his interactions with them convince him that he cannot truly enjoy life in the real world as long as he is still a marked man. By interacting with them, he finally gets noticed by the outside world, jeopardizing his safety.


Meeting Liza

Bod's early interactions with Liza reflect his goodness and his willingness to think for himself. Although he is told not to venture into Liza's disreputable section of the graveyard, Bod judges that Liza is no threat. Instead, he goes out of his way to get her a gravestone and bring some happiness to her melancholy existence.


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The Graveyard Book Gothic Elements

The Graveyard Book’s setting, characters, and tone borrow from the conventions of Gothic literature. Have students use storyboards to identify the Gothic elements in the book. Students can make reference to the list below to choose and depict 3-5 Gothic characteristics present in the novel. Beneath each depiction, students should provide a brief description of the element’s connection to the novel.


Gothic Literature Elements

  • Supernatural events
  • Gloomy, decaying setting
  • Subterranean passages, hidden rooms, or trapdoors
  • Mystery and suspense
  • Supernatural beings
  • Curses or prophesies
  • Romance
  • Heroes
  • Intense emotions
  • Shadows, moonlight, flickering candles

The Graveyard Book Gothic Elements

Gloomy, Decaying Setting

It doesn't get much gloomier than a graveyard! Bod grows up among gravestones, coffins, and old bones. The inhabitants of the graveyard walk around in the decaying clothing they were buried in and make use of artifacts left in their tombs. A shadowy, ghost-filled cemetery is the quintessential Gothic setting.


Mystery and Suspense

For much of the book, the identity behind the Dorians' killer remains unknown. The existence of the mysterious Jack and his mission to kill Bod keep the reader in suspense throughout the book.


Supernatural Beings

The Graveyard Book contains all sorts of supernatural beings, including ghosts, ghouls, the Jacks of all trades, and the unique members of the Honor Guard.


Curses or Prophecies

The Jacks of all Trades set out to kill Bod and his family due to a prophecy. In ancient Egypt, a prophet foretold of a child who would "walk the borderland between the living and the dead...if this child grew to adulthood it would mean the end of [the Jacks] and all [they] stand for."


Shadows, Moonlight, Flickering Candles

The graveyard comes alive at night and much of Bod's life is spent in the darkness or moonlight. Bod's special powers enable him to see in the dark without difficulty, so he can effortlessly exist in a world of shadows.


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Gothic Literature

The Graveyard Book is an example of Gothic literature. Popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, Gothic literature uses darkness and horror to heighten romance and adventure. Although The Graveyard Book is a 21st century novel, it borrows many of the characteristics typical of Gothic classics. These elements include the following:



As you teach The Graveyard Book, consider pairing it with another well-known Gothic story, such as Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or one of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. For more information on Gothic literature, visit the links below.


Neil Gaiman was inspired to write The Graveyard Book, in part, by his love of The Jungle Book. He envisioned his story as a series of discrete episodes, capturing the coming-of-age experiences of the young protagonist. This episodic format is evident in Gaiman’s novel as the narration jumps forward, sometimes a few years at a time, capturing day to day adventures in Bod’s life alongside the more significant, life-changing moments. Like Mowgli in The Jungle Book, Bod’s character is conveyed through his interactions with a variety of different characters. Each episode is significant for the way it develops Bod’s character and expands our understanding of his world.


Essential Questions for The Graveyard Book

  1. How is death portrayed in this book? How does it differ from living?
  2. What role do communities play in raising children?
  3. What makes The Graveyard Book Gothic literature?
  4. How does Bod grow and mature over the course of the book?
  5. Which characters act as heroes in this novel?


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