NOTE: This post was originally published 10 Oct 2017 on Read-Aloud Corner, my reading blog. Subscribe to that blog to get all of our book reviews in your email.
"Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."
Coraline is a dark fantasy book about a little girl who discovers another world behind a door in her parents' flat. In her own world, her parents are too caught up in their work to play with her, and so Coraline frequently gets bored and goes exploring.
Most of these exploring trips are to the dilapidated tennis court or the bottomless well, and some are to her neighbors' flats, even though they constanty get her name wrong. On one of these trips, Coraline discovers a door in her own flat which opens into a brick wall. Later, when she is home alone, she goes back to the door, and finds that it suddenly opens into a long, dark passageway, one which leads to another world
The other world is exactly like her own, but different. For one thing, she has an other mother and an other father, and they want to love her and be with her for all time. For another, their eyes are black buttons sewn onto their heads. This other world is strange and scary and enticing, but Coraline can't help but feel that something is wrong.
Something is indeed wrong, and it will take all of Coraline's courage (and assistance from a sarcastic black cat) to beat the dragon that lies in wait for her.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Dave McKean
Original Story Published in 2002
This Edition Published in 2012
This is the first "scary" book we have read as part of Read-Aloud Corner. It's also the first book we've read after having already seen the movie; B and A and I had watched it previously. As such, it was a bit of a unique experience, and provided me with opportunities to point our how author Gaiman wants his readers to experience the book.
The book provides a shining example of what courage is. Coraline tells a story about her dad and her going exploring, and them accidentally stepping on a wasps's nest. Her dad tells her to run while he stays behind; she only got stung once while he got stung thirty-nine times. Later, her dad realizes that he dropped his glasses, and has to go back to the wasps's nest to retrieve them. Coraline says that her dad telling her to run and staying behind wasn't brave, it was the only thing he could do. But later, when he had to go back to retrieve his glasses, knowing the wasps's nest was there, that was brave.
"'Because,' [Coraline] said, 'when you're scared but you still do it anyway, that's brave.”
K was the only one who hadn't already heard this story. She's also the youngest, and the most likely the be frightened, so she made me promise that I would protect her from the scary stuff. Usually that meant cuddling with me as I read, which I was happy to do.
Content Warnings (SPOILERS)
Let's get this out of the way: Coraline is scary story. It is meant to have creepy imagery, and in fact that imagery is central to how the story is told. Don't read this book to your kids thinking "oh they won't be scared" because they very well might be. What's more, they might like it.
The other mother herself the biggest source of the creepiness. Her hair flows about her as unnaturally, as if underwater, and her black button eyes give nothing away. But, to be honest, that's peanuts compared to what Coraline finds in the cellar of the other flat. There, she encounters the thing that used to be her other father, now mutilated and misshapen, as if it was molded from clay and only half done. This thing warns Coraline to flee and then attacks her, and she only just escapes. Not to mention things like decapitated rats and disembodied hands, the latter of which features heavily in the last two chapters.
There's no bad language, no sex, no real violence, just scary imagery and a general sense of forboding. Most of the horror comes from things being just slightly off, which gets worse as the story progresses. Possibly the best example of the creepiness imbued in the book comes from this quote:
“How do I know you'll keep your word?" asked Coraline.
"I swear it," said the other mother. "I swear it on my own mother's grave."
"Does she have a grave?" asked Coraline.
"Oh yes," said the other mother. "I put her in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back.”
It's a scary, thrilling adventure, but make sure your kids are mature enough to handle the darker moments.
What the Kids Thoughts (SPOILERS)
"It was a little creepy. I've already seen the movie, so I knew most of the story, but it was different from the movie."
"I loved it! Maybe I like being scared. And Mr. Bobo is a funny name."
"The hand was scary. I didn't like that part. I did like most of the story, just not that."
Coraline is a spooky, enthralling adventure to another world with a little girl who demonstrates an incredible amount of bravery, even if she is small for her age. It's a modern classic, a campfire tall tale designed to thrill you and creep you out at the same time, while only describing just enough to leave you wondering. If you and your kids want a scary story to read aloud, to see if dragons can in fact be beaten, head on through the door and give Coraline a try.
Recommended Age: 8 and up