Neil Gaiman has been getting a lot of attention lately for American Gods getting picked up for television and the release of Norse Gods. A month ago, his children’s book Cinnamon was released for the first time in print. As an audiobook, it’s an interesting story, and I would like to see illustrations with it.
I’ve found that I love most of his children’s books. Below I’ve listed five picture books and five middle grade books, by Neil Gaiman, that I love. These are not in any particular order.
1. The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish
Illustrated by Dave McKean, this was Neil Gaiman’s first book for children. One day a boy’s friend comes over with two new goldfish, so the boy swaps his dad, whose face is always behind a newspaper, for the goldfish. His mother is angry, of course, and tells him to undo the swap. He and his sister are forced to walk all over town, trying to get their dad back. Illustration-wise, I love the motif of goldfish.
The series of swaps that happen are great. This is something I could see in one of the cartoon’s I watched when I was little. It’s entertaining.
2. Crazy Hair
Bonnie befriends a man with crazy hair, who is also the speaker. He tells her everything that is in his crazy hair, including tigers and pirates.
This is a funny little book, and the illustrations help make it come to life. There’s also a YouTube video of Gaiman reading the poem, and it’s hilarious all on its own.
3. Wolves in the Walls
Yes, Dave McKean has illustrated a lot of Gaiman’s books. They’ve been collaborating on projects since the ’80s.
Lucy and her pig-puppet doll are sure there are wolves in the walls of their home. No one believes them, for “if the wolves come out of the walls, it’s all over.” This book is absolutely wonderful for its illustrations, humor, and reactions of the characters.
4. The Dangerous Alphabet
I love this book because Gris Grimly designed a plot with his illustrations. It gives you the alphabet, but the plot, created by the pictures, makes it better.
5. The Sleeper and the Spindle
Combining Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, Gaiman wrote a new fairy tale with strong women. A queen postpones her wedding, dons her armor, and sets off to save a kingdom stricken with a sleeping plague. She will decide her own future, and the princess she who needs rescue is not quite what she seems. This image does not do the gold justice. When you see the book in person, the gold pops so beautifully on the cover and in the pages.
I love it that Snow White hears about trouble in another kingdom and postpones her wedding to go resolve the problem. She’s dressed in armor, leaves her fiancé behind, and sets off on this mission. I enjoyed her interaction with Sleeping Beauty. The ending is also perfect.
Middle Grade Books
1. Odd and the Frost Giants
Odd and the Frost Giants might interest you if you liked his Norse Mythology, at least I assume so since they both feature Norse gods. No one knows why, but Winter isn’t ending. While running away, Odd, a lame boy, follows a fox, a bear, and an eagle (all gods) through the woods and into Asgard. Can he save the mighty Gods from the most dangerous Frost Giant?
This was a fast read, but it was an entertaining take on Norse mythology. I loved how Odd found himself entangled in it, and it had a few unexpected plot twists. I also love the illustrations in this edition.
2. M Is for Magic
If short stories are more your fancy, try this book. This is a collection of fantasy short stories. Some of the stories, like “The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” exemplify his unique way of retelling fairy tales or borrowing characters from them to write original stories, like he did with The Sleeper and the Spindle. Be warned two of the stories can be read as a chapter in The Graveyard Book and as one of his picture books, Instructions, illustrated by Charles Vess.
3. Fortunately, the Milk
While a human father goes out to buy milk, he is abducted by aliens who want to take over the earth. He spins this tale of what happened while he was out, and it sounds outrageous. The question is: Is his story real?
I loved Skottie Young’s illustrations and the overall hilarious story. I think this book might be fun to disinterested readers.
4. The Graveyard Book
Inspired by The Jungle Books and by the image of Gaiman’s son on a tricycle near a graveyard, The Graveyard Book tells the tale of a boy who grows up in a graveyard and encounters adventures involving witches, spirits, and creatures of other worlds. After his parents and sister are murdered brutally, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where he is raised by the ghosts. Nobody “Bod” Owens grows up learning the ways of ghosts and monsters, and tries to grow up before the murderer of his family can finish the job. The book’s themes are potential, cunning, growing up, and learning one’s lessons.
I surprised myself by how much I liked this book. There were so many characters, and I liked that Bod noticed how the ghosts changed as he grew up. I particularly loved the juxtaposition of life and death.
A girl in the U.K. feels ignored by her parents. A little door opens one night and transports her to the Other World, where people who look like her parents but with button eyes love her, play with her, and give her everything she wants. Coraline has to figure out if the Other Mother’s offer is worth the price of having buttons sewn into her eyes.
I first read this when the movie was released, and then I read it again in the fall for two classes. I love the conflict between independence and dependence and the desire to have Coraline’s parents give her more attention. The creepiness of the Other Mother and some of the motifs are interesting too. The differences between the book and the movie are interesting enough to make them equally good.
Have you read any of the books on this list? Do you have any Neil Gaiman recommendations?