Neil Gaiman

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Coraline Jones was bored. She's been all through the big, old house she and her parents have just moved into. She's met the crazy ladies who live downstairs, and the weird old guy with the mice who lives upstairs. She's counted everything in the apartment that's blue -- 153. She's counted all the windows -- 21. And she's counted all the doors -- 14.

The fourteenth door was locked, and when she found the key, it opened onto a brick wall. When they turned the house into apartments, Coraline's mother explained, they just bricked up the door.

But, Coraline was bored, so the next day, she goes back to that door. This time, when she unlocks it, the brick wall isn't there anymore. Instead, there's a long, dark hallway. "There was a cold, musty smell coming through the open doorway; it smelled like something very old and very slow."

Coraline goes down the hallway. It looks very familiar. In fact, it looks like her very own apartment. She has left her house -- or has she? She hears her mother's voice, and sees someone who looks just like her mother. Except - her skin is as white as paper; her fingers are too long, and her dark red fingernails are curved and sharp; she's taller and thinner, and her eyes are big shiny, black buttons.

In her soft, raspy voice, this woman tells Coraline that she is her "other mother."

Despite her other mother's creepy appearance, Coraline has a good time in this other house. Her other mother is attentive and affectionate. Her other father, who has the same white skin and black-button eyes, cooks a really delicious lunch. This is in comparison to her real dad, who tends to cook "recipes" with things like tarragon in them. The toys in Coraline's room are alive. The black cat, who in her real life won't have anything to do with her, talks and offers advice. On the whole, life is much more interesting in her other home. Remember, Coraline Jones was bored.

But when Coraline says she is ready to leave, her other parents try to keep her there. "There's just one little thing we have to do," her other father says. They take her to the other kitchen. On a china plate on the kitchen table was a spool of black cotton, and a long, silver needle, and, beside them, two large black buttons.

Discussion questions

  1. Describe Coraline. What kind of a person is she? How does she like to spend her time?
  2. How is Coraline treated by her parents? Who are the other adults in Coraline's life and how do they treat her? What is the difference between how she is treated in the real world and the other world?
  3. Before entering the other world, Coraline receives ominous warnings about her future. What are the warnings and from whom does she receive them? What do the messages mean?
  4. When Coraline unlocks the door to the neighboring flat she knows she is doing something she is not supposed to (pp.26). But she does it anyway. Why? What are the consequences? Have you ever done something you knew you were not supposed to? How did this make you feel? What were the consequences of your actions?
  5. When Coraline discovers her parents are missing, she calls the police (pp. 54-55). What does she tell the officer? How does he respond? Why? How would you respond if you were the officer? Why? What would you have done if you were in Coraline's situation?
  6.  How does Coraline define bravery (pp. 58-59)? In what ways does Coraline demonstrate bravery? What is your definition of bravery?
  7.  The other mother tells Coraline: "We're ready to love you and play with you and feed you and make your life more interesting." (pp. 60) How is Coraline's life with her other family different from life with her real family? What does Coraline find appealing about life in the other world? What family would you choose? Why?
  8. Coraline's other mother tells her that if she wants to stay in the other world there is one thing she must do. What is it? What effect will it have on her?
  9. Why does the other mother want Coraline? What does the cat think about this (pp. 65)? Why has she taken the other children and Coraline's parents?
  10. Miss Spink and Miss Forcible give Coraline a special stone (p. 21). Why? What does the stone look like? What special power does the stone have? How does Coraline use it?
  11. What challenge does Coraline present to her other mother (p. 91)? What will happen if she loses? What will happen if she wins? What makes her think winning is possible? Do you think this challenge is wise? Why or why not?
  12. Do the mirrors Coraline encounters in the real world and the other world reflect reality or illusion? How do you know? What is the significance of mirrors in Coraline? When Coraline finds her other father in the basement he tells her to flee (p. 112). When she refuses he turns on her, and tries to harm her. How does Coraline respond? What happens as a result?
  13. Coraline explains to the old man upstairs, "I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if we just got everything we wanted? Just like that, and it didn't mean anything. What then?" (p. 120) Do you agree or disagree with Coraline? Explain your thinking. How would you respond to her question?
  14. How does Coraline's life change when she returns to the real world with her parents?
  15. What does Coraline learn from the experience of being in the other world? After Coraline returns to the real world she receives clues that the other mother's work is not done. What are they? How does Coraline foil the other mother once and for all?

If you like this book, try

  • Clockwork: or All Wound Up by Philip Pullman
  • Curses, Inc by Vivian Vande Velde
  • Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright
  • The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley
  • Skellig by David Almond
  • The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Portions of this discussion guide are credited to the Harper Collins online reading guide for Coraline.

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.