Friday, February 6, 2009

The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi

Those of you who have heard of The Spiderwick Chronicles are probably thinking of the movie starring Freddie Highmore, but before it was a movie it was a series of five books by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi chronicling the adventures of the Grace children at Spiderwick manor.
Curious about the movie and finding the books small (less than 200 pages and measuring 4"x6") and readily available in the children's section of my local library I decided to find out for myself more about this story.

In Book 1: The Field Guide, nine year-old Jared, his twin brother Simon, and their older sister Mallory arrive at their new home, Spiderwick Manor. A nasty divorce between Mr. and Mrs. Grace is the reason that Mrs. Grace and the children have had to move; something none of them are happy about, especially when they see how dilapidated Spiderwick Manor is. Trouble begins before they have a chance to unpack and settle in. Something or someone is causing mischief in the house and blaming it on Jared. As the children investigate Jared finds a secret room and a secret book, Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You -- a book about faeries. The adventures have only just begun.

In Book 2: The Seeing Stone, the adventures continue as Jared, Simon, and Mallory investigate the strange happenings around their new home. Things take a nasty turn when Simon is kidnapped by a band of goblins and it is through the use of a special "seeing stone" that Jared and Mallory are finally able to get a glimpse of what is really going on. Along the way they make a couple surprising friends.

Book 3: Lucinda's Secret begins with a visit to Great-Aunt Lucinda Spiderwick, who is currently living in a pyschiatric hospital (thanks to her belief in faeries). While there Jared, Simon, and Mallory learn more about the history of Spiderwick Manor and Arthur Spiderwick, as well as the dangers that lay before them if they do not destory the Field Guide once and for all... Unfortunately the Field Guide has gone missing... and it must be found before it gets into the wrong hands.

Book 4: Adventure and mystery abounds in The Ironwood Tree. Mallory disappears after one of her school's fencing matches and it's up to Jared and Simon to find and rescue her before something worse happens. At the same time the boys see their enemy, Mulgarath, for the first time and realize how dangerous he is and how badly they need to find missing Field Guide before he does.

Book 5: The Wrath of Mulgarath is the final novel in the series and in typical fantasy fashion ends with a great fight between the good-guys and the bad-guys. The entire Grace family and the world as we know it is in danger of the evil Mulgarath. Using wit and ingenuity Jared and his siblings work together to save the day and bring peace and quiet back to Spiderwick Manor.

Overall the Spiderwick Chronicles follow a typical children's fantasy: the good-guys stumble upon a mystery, they encounter the bad-guys, trouble ensures, the bad-guys seem to be winning, the good-guys fight back, and in the end with the help of loyal friends the good-guys save the day. And yet The Spiderwick Chronicles aren't your average children's fantasy. This fantasy has a darker tone and the illustrations are proof enough as the trolls, ogres, and goblins look like something out of a nightmare. I must admit, the more friendly faeries and creatures are reminiscent of characters in The Borrowers or Chronicles of Narnia, but only slightly so.

The five books are short (less than 200 pages depending on the publication) and an easy children's read (they were written for 9-12 years old).

As mentioned above, there are some negative aspects to the books. First the aforementioned darker theme, which includes ogres, trolls, and some gore. Then there is also the aforementioned divorce between Mr. and Mrs. Grace, which is alluded to several times in the book, including its negative impact on the children. Last thre are the children's squabbles, fights, and name calling. Their relationship is hardly loving, though through the series they do seem to bond and stand by each other, showing in the end that they truly love each other despite their differences and personal issues. Still, these negatives can be overlooked if the reader is mature enough to handle them, or if a parent takes time to read and discuss with their child.

I wasn't able to draw my final opinion of the books until I had finished the series. At the end of the first book I just didn't know enough to draw an opinion and by the middle of the series there were still so many unanswered questions. But as I closed the fifth and final book I had my opinion. Overall I thought the series was a clever and an entertaining read, but it wasn't a favorite. On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate the entire series of The Spiderwick Chronicles a 2.5. It was ok, but not something I'd readily recommend to other reads and not something I would include in my personal library. However, if you are curious I would suggest you check a copy out at your local library and decide for yourself. (They are short enough fast readers can finish a book in an hour or less.)

The authors have taken on a sequel-series in the Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, but I doubt I will read them.

As a side note, if you have seen the movie I would love to get your feedback. Please feel free to leave a comment about your thoughts on the movie, or if you've read the books and seen the movie, then your thoughts on both.


ibeeeg said...

I have been a bit curious about this series. I think I will hold off from reading these and spend my time elsewhere.

I have not read all of the Chronicles of Narnia... I should finish this series before finishing one that is sub-par by reivews. Thanks.

Alyce said...

I think these books that are enjoyed more by the younger crowd. My seven-year-old read them last year and loved them. He's very much into fantasy stories, and his reading level is pretty high so these were perfect.

Michelle said...

I actually really want to read these because I love fantasy books. even if they are meant for children. I loved the movie. thanks for the review, it was awesome.

Carrie said...

I, too, have been curious about this series - wondering if it was worth my time.

I'm going to take a pass but that is actually a compliment to you review which gave such a great overview of the series and covered so much ground that I feel I can make a rather informed decision about it.

So thanks! Again!

FatalisFortuna said...

I'm actually very fond of the Spiderwick Chronicles. I may or may not re-read them, but I did enjoy them very much. (Possibly because they concern more old-fashioned fairies instead of the new kind that I see so much.)

I saw the movie and enjoyed it too. They did streamline the books quite a bit to make them suit the format, but the basic story is still there and I liked the effects. :)

I've also read the two books available from the sequel series. They're mostly more of the same, but in a fresh location with new kids.

Crystal said...

Thanks for reviewing these, Sarah. I've often seen students taking them out of the library and thought I should find out more. Because you say they are an easy read, I might give the first one at try.