Booktalk: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline cover

Welcome to my first spooky booktalk selection for October!  Okay, first I’m going to tell you why I love this book to pieces, and why it’s one of my favorite booktalks I’ve ever written.  Then I’m going to tell you why I don’t booktalk it any more.

Let’s start with the love.  Neil Gaiman has a very simple, clear, and poetic writing style that is easy to understand yet often profound.  He’s demonstrated this style with a wide range of writing over the years, for adult audiences (the Sandman graphic novels, The Ocean at the End of the Lane), for children (The Wolves in the Walls) and for a crossover audience of older children and younger teens (The Graveyard Book and Coraline).  And YES, I know he’s written many more books — those are just some of MY favorites, okay?  Anyway, I love Coraline in particular because it’s scary without being bloody or gruesome, but it’s also very creepy in a “deep inside we’re all afraid of dolls and clowns” kind of way.

I mean … buttons instead of eyes?  SHUDDER

I also like this booktalk because I think it covers that creepy atmosphere very nicely (if I do say so myself).  And the use of repetition works particularly well when you’re sharing a story that has a fairy tale kind of quality.  It’s one thing to tell a story to a kindergarten class and see them start to nod their heads and mouth along with the phrases you repeat in a story.  But it’s very different (and very rare) to see the same kind of reaction in a 7th grade class.  I’ve shared this booktalk with middle school classes many times over the years, and on multiple occasions I’ve seen 7th graders mouthing along with my repetitions of the phrase “… but not quite.”

As to why I don’t booktalk it any more … well, some of you have figured that out already.  As I mentioned in my “Are There Any Books That I Shouldn’t Booktalk?” episode, I usually stop booktalking a book when I know that it’s been turned into a movie, especially if it’s a big-budget release that many people have seen.  Because it’s kind of pointless to drum up the whole “You’ll have to read the book if you want to know the ending!” vibe if half of your audience already knows what happens at the end of the story.  That being said, since the movie came out a while ago and it isn’t as fresh in everyone’s minds, I wouldn’t mind working this booktalk back into my repertoire again.  After all, a great book is still a great book.

If you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing (and you should be), make sure you check out his books for adults, kids, and everyone in between.  And in case you’re wondering if there are any more literary frontiers he hasn’t conquered yet, I should also point out that he’s recently developed a video game called Wayward Manor that is going to be coming out within the next few months.  Jeez, what CAN’T this guy do???


Coraline and her family moved into a very old house.  As Coraline began exploring the grounds, she discovered many interesting things.  She discovered a rose garden that was all overgrown, a tennis court where the net was rotting away, and a dangerous old well that was covered up by planks of wood.  When Coraline explored inside the house, she discovered something else.  There were fourteen doors, but only thirteen of them were open.  The last door was locked.  When Coraline asked her mother about it, she told her that it went nowhere.  She unlocked the door, and showed Coraline the brick wall on the other side.  It really went nowhere.

That night, Coraline’s strange dreams began.  She dreamed that she heard a creaking noise – almost like an old door being opened.  She also dreamed that she saw little black shapes with little red eyes and sharp yellow teeth.

And as the days passed, Coraline’s dreams grew even stranger, like the time she dreamed that she unlocked the door herself, and that instead of a brick wall there was a hallway on the other side, and that the hallway led into a house that looked almost like hers but not quite … and that she walked into a kitchen that was almost like hers but not quite … and that she saw a woman who was almost like her mother but not quite.  Because this woman had skin as white as paper … and long fingers with curved sharp fingernails … and big black buttons instead of eyes.

And this was the worst kind of dream for Coraline to have, because, in fact, she wasn’t dreaming.  This time, Coraline was wide awake.

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