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The American Library Association has given the prestigious Newbery Medal for children's literature to Neil Gaiman for his novel, "The Graveyard Book." It's the story of a boy raised by the ghostly inhabitants of a cemetery. Minnesota Public Radio's Euan Kerr reports.

EUAN KERR: The inspiration for "The Graveyard Book" came more than 20 years ago, when Neil Gaiman lived in England. He'd been watching his 2-year-old son ride his tricycle in the old country graveyard across the street from their house. Last summer, at his current home near Minneapolis, Gaiman recalled thinking about Rudyard Kipling's "Jungle Book."

Mr. NEIL GAIMAN (Author, "The Graveyard Book"): "The Jungle Book" is all about a kid whose family are killed, who is taken in by animals in the jungle, and taught all the things that animals know. I'd like to do a story about a kid who doesn't have a family, who is adopted by dead people, and taught all the things that dead people know.

KERR: It took him a couple of decades to write, however. He tried several times, but never felt he had it quite right. Finally, a couple of years ago, he wrote one chapter and read it to his youngest daughter, who is now a teenager. She demanded to know what came next. Thus began the story of Nobody Owens, better known as Bod to the ghosts and other supernatural beings in the graveyard. The book became an instant best-seller, but Gaiman says now getting the Newbery is like winning a Nobel Prize or an Oscar. Speaking from the Los Angeles airport, he says the American Library Association essentially decides which books will become part of a literary canon.

Mr. GAIMAN: This is a book that will be around probably after I'm dead. It will still be on the Newbery shelves.

KERR: The Newbery is one of roughly 20 awards the American Library Association gives out at its annual convention. The best-known are the Newbery and the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which goes to the illustrator of a children's book. This year, that honor went to Beth Krommes for her work on "The House in the Night," with text by Susan Marie Swanson. The association also gives out prizes for African-American literature, books for beginning readers, and works for young adults. Neil Gaiman says he's been surprised by the number of grown-ups who have read his book and have told him the ending reduces them to tears.

Ms. ROSE TREVINO (Chair, 2009 Newbery Medal Selection Committee): I'm one of them.

KERR: Rose Trevino is the chair of this year's Newbery committee. She says the judges loved the characters and the development of the plot, but also the way Gaiman weaves human longing into the story of Nobody Owens coming of age.

Ms. TREVINO: And the result is, yes, it does bring tears to your eyes because you know that Nobody is now going to go on forward.

KERR: The characters in "The Graveyard Book" may return in other novels, Neil Gaiman says, but that's in the future. He was in Los Angeles to prepare for the release of the 3-D animation of his children's novella "Coraline." For NPR News, I'm Euan Kerr in St. Paul.

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