Thursday, February 7, 2008

DiTerlizzi & Black

The Spiderwick Chronicles
by Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black
Recommended Age: 9+

I finally tired of waiting for these five slim, gorgeously illustrated books to come out in paperback, so I picked up a boxed set of the hardcovers. I figured it would be a good idea to do my homework before seeing the upcoming movie based on these books.

The first thing I observed about these books is that they aren't really five books, but one book chopped up into five highly attractive, but probably overproduced volumes. I think I would have gone crazy reading them one at a time, because there is really only one story between them, and a real or implied "To Be Continued Sign" is simply not a satisfying ending for a book. I would also be a touch less grouchy if this story didn't take up so many inches of my precious shelf space. Admittedly, the books deserve points for their high-quality, original design. But I'm not too nice to take those points back for the crime of "milking more out of them than they are worth."

Now that I have thoroughly vented my grouchiness, let me add that the pictures are phenomenal, the three Grace children are cool kids, and the world of fairy creatures they discover while living in an old run-down house is full of mystery, magic, danger, and fun.

In the first volume, The Field Guide, Jared Grace, his twin brother Simon (who isn't half as troublesome), and their older sister Mallory are first caught up in this unseen world, beginning with the discovery of a secret room upstairs, a hidden book, and a brownie (not the edible kind). In the second volume, The Seeing Stone, Jared is preoccupied with saving Simon, a wounded griffin, and a relatively friendly hobgoblin from some ravenous goblins and even bigger, nastier things. In Lucinda's Secret (vol. 3), the children visit a supposedly mad great-aunt who also saw fairies when she lived in the same house. The adventure moves underground for The Ironwood Tree (vol. 4), when Mallory is taken captive by dwarves. And the fifth volume, The Wrath of Mulgarath, leads up to a final confrontation with dragons, ogres, and the elves themselves.

Viewed as one story, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a wonderful achievement. The characters draw you in, the illustrations fire up the mental movie-projector, and the adventure itself has just the right balance of warmth, humor, and moderate scariness to suit young readers. It makes you wonder what purpose is served by making a movie out of it. But that's just my grouchiness talking.

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