Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and the adult “children’s book”

Wow. This is one terrific, terrible book! Let me explain…

Coraline is about a young girl who likes exploring and finds a hidden door to another world… so far a pretty common premise for a “children’s book,” right? But what’s behind the door is what makes Coraline so terrible: the “other mother” who unlike her real mother pays her lots of attention, cooks good food, and gives her what she wants. But also unlike her real mother, the other mother has buttons for eyes and wants to love Coraline to death.

As an adult, I love Coraline. I picked it up on a whim, and the story has haunted me for weeks with the clicking, scratching noise of the other mother’s hand, and I’m well past the 8+ recommended reading age.  But for kids? It might be too terrible, in the old scary sense of the word.

Now, I know children need evil in their stories. And the other mother is like the wicked step mother from fairy tales only more evil–

The other mother embodies what every child hates and fears in their own mothers: the controlling part, the part that has the power to grant dreams and to crush them.

And Coraline (as does every child) has to defy and defeat her in order to grow up.

But my ability to see this might be because I’m out on the other side of childhood, at least for the most part I like to think. Can 8-year-olds get past the button eyes, the vicious rats, the soul-less child ghosts to a larger theme or will it just plain terrify them?

Which makes me wonder: who is the real audience for books like Coraline?

There’s been a lot of discussion about adults reading YA lit. Joel Stein touched off a firestorm saying they shouldn’t, but I say it’s good for us. Heaven knows revisiting childhood is the first thing a head shrink will tell an adult to do. And arguably every time anyone enters the world of a book, be it YA or high literature, they re-enter the child-like world of “let’s pretend.”

So go ahead adults: children’s and young adult books are for you too! But make no mistake, while it might be fun to pretend to be Katniss in The Hunger Games or the adventurous Coraline in Gaiman’s book, but really, we adults  might be a bit closer to characters like the Games’ President Snow or Coraline’s terrifying other mother.


The movie is pretty good too, but the book is better. Read it first!

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9 Responses to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and the adult “children’s book”

  1. Story Addict says:

    Awesome, I’ll definitely check it out (I like to read books before I watch movies too). I do believe adults should read YA and even MG, especially if they write it. I hadn’t read The Neverending Story since elementary school, but I picked it up again a few days ago and I couldn’t put it down. It reminded me of the greatness of storytelling, and that’s what a lot of books for kids do. Maybe I’m still a kid inside; when you become a parent, your perspective shifts. And, yes, some are more like scary stories. I think at 8 I would have been okay with them. I believe Goosebumps was written in that target audience. Below 8 it would have probably been too much, but I’ve yet to read it!

    • sarazaske says:

      I’ve never read Goosebumps, but I had the sense they were more spooky. Coraline is dark and chilling, and there’s not much air, if you know what I mean. No safe havens of silliness to break it up. Perhaps some kids would like it, but I’d hesitate to give it to most 8 year olds I know. But yet I, personally, love it. I’m sure there are others like this too.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I may not be an adult (okay, so I’ll be 18 next year), but I think everyone would benefit from YA/MG literature. Even if I’m a teenager, I still love reading MG novels. Coraline will always be one of my favorites no matter how old I get. Who says you can’t revisit your childhood?

    • sarazaske says:

      Well Joel Stein for one. But I don’t want to send you to his comment. I have a feeling it was just made to stir up controversy. Kind of annoying. I’m curious, did you first read Coraline when you were “MG” age, or older? It seems a better fit somehow for teenagers even though the character is younger.

      • Jennifer says:

        I didn’t know about Coraline until I was a teenager. What’s funny is that while I was MG age, I read YA, and now that I’m YA age, I’m starting to read MG, haha. I think Coraline does seem like a better fit for teens, just because it’s dark. I’m not sure if it would make a very good bed time story.

  3. Katie Allen says:

    I’ve never read Coraline although it’s been highly recommended to me by my niece Katie and my brother in-law. Katie has always been an advanced reader and her dad suggested it might be scary for some kids, but a fantastic read.
    I’m a big proponent of reading YA. I think really good YA reopens your mind to seeing the world for the first time with a growing angst that it is not black and white, yet one is responsible to make sense of it. I also have nieces and nephews that I like to discuss their reading lists with, but that’s only part of the reason I read YA. I think Pullman’s Dark Materials and the Chaos Walking Series are better read as adults. The depth of the dystopian subjects would be hard for a young person to grasp on first read. They are subtly dealing with much larger issues and without a teacher, I think many of them would be missed by young readers.

    • sarazaske says:

      Nicely put. And I totally agree. I think the category of YA is more fluid than simply the age of the audience. I think it has to do more with perspective. They’re stories told from the eyes of a teenager or younger kid, but that doesn’t mean adults can’t relate. And I love Pullman too – and yes I thought there were some heavy themes in Dark materials. Haven’t read the Chaos Walking series. Nice tip – can’t wait to read it!

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