The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a clever young adult novel that tells the story of Bod. Nobody (Bod) Owens is an orphan adopted by ghosts and raised in the graveyard. The dead and undead teach Bod the lessons of the living while he grows up. These chapter summaries do not replace reading the book; they will help students prepare for tests and reports.
Growing Up in the Graveyard
Chapter 1 – How Nobody Came to the Graveyard
In the dark and scary beginning the man Jack kills a family with a sharp, long knife. The toddler tumbles from his crib and toddles out the open door and up the hill, escaping Jack.
At the top of the hill, in the graveyard, Mr. and Mrs. Owens find the baby. They wonder what to do with a live child in their dead world. When someone rattles the gate they think someone has come for the child. A startling flickering ghost of the baby’s dead mother appears pleading with them to keep her child safe. Her panic draws figures from all over the graveyard.
The man Jack climbs over the fence and is met by Josiah Worthington, a wealthy brewer who had over three hundred years before had given the cemetery and surrounding land to the city. Josiah tells Jack that he wouldn’t remember the graveyard and escorts him out the gate. Jack is confused as to what had happened.
Mr. and Mrs. Owens agree to adopt the child. Silas agrees to be his guardian, and bring him food. They discuss what to name the baby. Josiah says he looks like my drunken gardener. Mother Slaughter thought he looked like her nephew Harry. Mrs. Owens says he looks like nobody but himself and will be called Nobody. The graveyard inhabitants debate what to do. They discuss giving him Freedom of the Graveyard which would allow him to see in the dark and to go where the living normally can’t.
The Lady on the Grey, who attends all deaths, came rambling up on a huge white horse. She tells the graveyard folk, “The dead should have charity,” giving them her blessing for Nobody to stay.
Chapter 2 – The New Friend
Bod was a quiet child who couldn’t understand why he couldn’t leave the cemetery, after all Silas left.
Bod learned to read from the headstones and learned from the dead but he was lonely. Bod meets a live girl, Scarlett Perkins. They become friends and often play together. Her parents think Bod is an imaginary friend and bring Scarlett to the Graveyard to play with him.
Bod and Scarlett decide to find the oldest grave in the cemetery. They ask Caius Pompeius, one of the oldest folks, about it. Caius tells them of the unknown grave on the hill.
The kids find an opening going down in the mausoleum at the top of the hill. They climb down the stone steps to meet the indigo man, the imaginary guard of the place. When they weren’t scared he disappeared.
Next, they felt a prickly sensation and hear whispery voices calling. They meet the Sleers who guards the resting place of the master and the treasure. The treasure is an old brooch, stone knife and a cup.
When the kids climb up the stone stairs, Scarlett’s parents and the police are searching for them. The parent’s are scared and vow never to let her out of their sight again. She convinces them to take her back later to tell Bod they were moving to Scotland.
Chapter 3 – The Hounds of God
There is one grave that belongs to ghouls in the graveyard, one in every graveyard.
Silas is leaving to find some information and Bod is not happy about it. Silas hires Miss Lupescu to look after Bod while he is gone. She is horrible, cooks Bod awful food and makes him memorize pointless lessons like how to call help in every language. Bod is not happy about it and his parents or anyone else will listen to his complaints. Frustrated, he curls into a ball on the grass and falls asleep.
Three ghouls wake him. They listen to his complaints and promise him food and adventure. They toss Bod down a dark opening in a tomb to the strange world under the grave stones. More ghouls swarm around them and they try to make Bod a ghoul – or perhaps they will leave his corpse under a tree and return to eat it after it is properly soft.
Night Gaunts, huge bird-like creatures, circle in the sky. Bod calls help to them in Night Gaunt language and they shriek and swarm, rescuing Bod. They take him to the large grey werewolf that sent them. The wolf is Miss Lupescu and she carries him home on her back. She explains she is from The Hounds of God, werewolves who see their transformation as a gift from God. To repay the gift they chase evil-doers to hell.
Silas returns and Bod, now a fan of Miss Lupescu, wants her to come back next summer.
Chapter 4 – The Witch’s Headstone
Bod discovers the unconsecrated grounds of the cemetery and goes to meet the witch buried there. Elisabeth (Liza) Hempstock was drowned and burned to death because another girl accused her of bewitching a boy. She was buried in an unmarked grave and desperately wanted a headstone.
Bod goes to the Sleers’s den and steals the ring to sell for money to buy a headstone. He leaves the graveyard to try and sell the ring at a pawnshop. When the evil pawnshop owner sees how fine and old the ring is he calls a cohort. They lock Bod up and debate calling Jack, who was looking for a boy. They decide not to as they want the treasure for themselves but Jack is awakened many miles away to the smell of something tasty.
Liza shows up and helps Bod escape. He takes a large glass paperweight and paint and his ring back. He returns the ring and paints ‘E.H. We don’t forget’ on the paperweight to mark Liza’s grave.
Please see page two for chapter summaries 5 through 8.
Chapter 5 – Danse Macabre
No one would tell Bod what was going on. The cemetery folk were all making preparations and singing the same song. Silas gives Bod clothing.
Silas tells Bod you must be alive or dead to dance the Macabre and since he is neither he doesn’t know much about it.
The Winter Blossoms bloomed the first time in 80 years and villagers came and cut baskets of the white flowers. After dusk, Bod could hear music coming from the town square and went to see. Every man, woman and child received a flower and the dead and the living danced together. Bod danced with the Lady on the Grey.
The next day the living forgot, the dead refused to speak of it and it snowed.
Interlude – The Convocation
About 100 men meet at a hotel banquet room to honor Good Dees Done. The Man Jack is at the head table. A silver haired man berates The Man Jack for failing to kill Bod. Jack protests that he still has time before Bod is grown.
Exploring Outside the Graveyard
Chapter 6 – Nobody Owens’ School Days
Silas allows Bod to go to public school. Bod is not supposed to draw attention to himself but he can’t help intervening when he discovers bullies terrorizing kids.
Bod leads Mo and Nick to the cemetery, fades, and fills them with fear. When they continue bullying, Bod dreamwalks and scares them more.
Mo has her uncle, a policeman, pick Bod up for questioning. Liza shows up and goes after Silas. The cop car hits a man in the road and stops. It is Silas who wraps Bod up in his arms and takes him home to the grave yard.
Chapter 7 – Every Man Jack
Silas disappears and the Grave Yard is in a tizzy about how to take care of Bod. Bod questions the Owens’s about The Man Jack. He is angry Silas hadn’t killed him when he had the chance. Mrs Owens says Silas is not a monster.
Scarlett and her mother move back to town after her parents divorce. Scarlett gets lost and meets nice Mr. Frost in the cemetery. He takes her home and her mom tells them of Scarlett’s imaginary friend in the graveyard when she was little. Mom invites Mr. Frost to dinner.
Bod learns revenge is a dish best served cold – or perhaps not at all. Bod and Scarlett meet again and she tells Mr. Frost.
In Krakow, Silas, Miss Lupesco and the rest of the Honor Guard battle evil forces in a cave. Miss Lupescu falls in battle and dies.
Scarlett discovers that Mr. Frost is staying in the house where Bod’s family was killed. Mr. Frost wants to meet Bod. When they meet Mr. Frost becomes Jack and tries to stab Bod. More Jacks, Jacks of All Trades, show up. Bod and Scarlett escape to the graveyard and the Jacks follow.
Bod hides Scarlett on the Sleers stairs. He tricks and traps all the Jacks except The Man Jack who went after Scarlett. Jack catches Scarlett in the Sleers cave and holds a knife to her throat.
Bod follows them and tells the Sleers that Jack is their master. The three-headed snake wraps Jack in its coils and pulls him through a wall.
Scarlett is terrified and furious with Bod for putting her in such a scary situation. Silas takes her home and helps her forget. She and her mom move back to Glasgow.
Since the Jacks are gone Silas takes Bod outside for pizza.
Chapter 8 – Leavings and Partings
Things are changing; Bod can no longer always see the dead. He is growing up and his powers are fading. Silas gives him a suitcase, money and a passport to go out in the world and sadly says goodbye. Mrs. Owens cries and sings to her son as she lets him go. Bod tries to hug her but can no longer touch her. Bod is happy to travel into the world and meet living adventure head on. He knows that one day he will return to the graveyard.
Adventure and Humor
Neil Gaiman’s clever novel, The Graveyard Book is full of adventure and humor. The charming tales that make up the story of Nobody Owens childhood in the graveyard can teach us all something. Mr. Gaiman has won many awards and honors for writing including the Carnegie and the Newberry Medals.
Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. Harper Collins, 2008.
Image by Photobucket/emmellis: The Graveyard Book