The Spiderwick Chronicles

I have already accomplished one of my goals for 2004! In the post below I mentioned that I was interested in reading the Spiderwick Chronicles and I can now report back that I have in fact done so. To be fair they are children’s literature and small short works with illustrations, but hey I can check that off the list all the same.

Despite their small size, I did enjoy the three volumes of this planned series of five (the three I read are The Field Guide, The Seeing Stone, and Lucinda’s Secret). In fact, I think the series should be combined into one volume when complete; each book could just as easily be a chapter. Although, in the age of the Harry Potter tomes perhaps it is nice to have a series of slim and elegantly illustrated books. I have a feeling that the marketing department had something do with this . . .

The stories involved are of the classic adventure style, with brothers and sisters getting into mischief while they bicker back and forth all the while hoping to avoid getting into trouble with their parents. There are, however, a few modern twists involved. The story revolves around the Grace family and their new temporary home, the Spiderwick Estate. The family has been forced to move to the estate, the property of an Aunt institutionalized for reasons spelled out later, because there father and mother are separated (later it is hinted that the cause is a new job for Mr. Grace). The children (twin brothers Simon and Jared, and their older sister Mallory), the house, and their unique family history are the ingredients for the adventures that follow. Each of the kids deal with the family turmoil in a different way. Simon collects animals of all shapes and sizes (including mice to his mothers dismay). Jared seems to have anger issues. And Mallory seems obsessed with fencing). But soon the unexpected mysteries of the house and their family, have them struggling to put aside sibling rivalry in order to explore the new world opened up for them.

The authors claim (in the letters introducing the books) that they were contacted by the Grace children themselves at at a book signing and told of the Field Guide’s existence. The authors followed up and were able to see the book in person and listen to the children’s stories first hand. The books are supposed to be a result of these conversations. The Field Guide (formally entitled Arthur Spiderwick’s Guide to the Fantastical World Around You – turns out to be a manual on how to spot and deal with faeries; fairies apparently inhabit the Spiderwick house and the surrounding area. With the help of this guide, the Grace children are spotting and interacting with fantastical creatures in and around the house.

This is not a innocent fantasy story of children playing with “the Little People,” however, as the faeries have a dark side (or at least the bad ones or Bogarts do). It seems the faeries are not happy that this book exists and the children are told to discard it post haste. The children’s adventures are largely made up of trying to figure out what to do with the book and the Pandora’s box they seemed to have opened up.

Since the books are so brief I won’t go into anymore detail (if you want detail you can read the books easily at one sitting). I am not an expert at children’s literature and I am not sure exactly what grade level or age these are aimed at, but I found the stories interesting and the plot rather inventive. In fact, it seemed to me that the adventures could easily be expanded and deepened to provide a series for older children (including adults). The children’s interaction with each other and their mom seems realistic even if the backdrop is rather fantastical. As an added bonus, the books are illustrated nicely by co-author Tony DiTerlizzi.

All in all this seems like a great package for kids. They get an interesting and ever-evolving mystery cleverly packaged and nicely illustrated. Plus, the books are small and light and so easy to handle. They seem the perfect set for those kids not quite ready for the long-winded and intricate plots of Harry Potter and Eragon which weigh in at 870 and 528 pages respectively.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).