Odd was written specially for World Book Day 2008, and cost all of £1. It's a novella, really: a shade under 100 pages.
Odd, the son of a Viking father (now deceased) and Scottish mother, has a crippled leg and a strange smile. And this year, winter isn't ending, and no-one knows why. Odd doesn't fit in with his village, so runs - well, hobbles - away. He meets a fox, a bear and an eagle, and learns why winter isn't ending. And decides to do something about it.
It's a very linear tale, this, with no particular surprises, and it's wrapped in Gaiman's lightness of touch. It reminded me of Studio Ghibli productions such as Spirited Away, where the protagonist is polite and friendly to all, and helps them in his or her own way. I suspect it'll appeal to parents who read to their children - I can definitely picture Gaiman reading it, in that clear, measured pace of his. Nice illustrations by Mark Buckingham too.
Gaiman talked about The Graveyard Book on his blog while he was writing it, and about its origins during his GoH speech at Orbital. It's now well-known that he thought a two-year-old boy (his son) on a tricycle looked surprisingly at home in a graveyard (the one next to his house), and that it'd be a good place for a child to grow up. Just as Kipling's Jungle Book had a boy lost in the jungle and raised by its inhabitants, so we have Nobody Owens ("Bod") raised in the graveyard. And Gaiman has also said that it's taken all of his writing career thus far to decide that, well, he might not yet be good enough to do justice to this tale, but he's no longer getting any better, so...
I've never read The Jungle Book (because it's a classic children's book, and I've never read any of them), but I enjoyed this. Again, it's a book to read aloud. Each chapter is episodic, self-contained, and good to read at night. Although the later chapters are significantly longer. The earlier chapters are closer in tone to Odd, where we're outside the events, as though listening to a long-lost fairy tale ("The knife had done almost all that it had come to do in that house, this particular evening..."), then as Bod grows and develops his own personality, he takes over the narrative and the tone becomes closer to more conventional story. They're still Gaiman shorts, though, which I still prefer to his full-length novel writing.
Scattered through the book are illustrations by Dave McKean. Some are full-page chapter headings, others swirl around the text like mist. They help to make the book something special. I don't know whether illustrations are common in children's literature these days, but I hope this can herald a return, if not.
The ending's beautiful, in a sad, sweet way.