Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Review: “The Spiderwick Chronicles, Vol. 1: The Field Guide" by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (2003)

I've known of these books for a while now. I saw a boxed set of them on the shelf in my cousins' basement, and read the first chapter of the first book, thought it was good, and decided to check 'em out. Then I promptly forgot to do so.

Fast forward to October 2010. While searching the children's section of the Ypsilanti District Library for books on fairies (for reference, of course!), I came across Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. Each and every creature depicted therein (in beautiful, full-color plates) combined aspects of real-world flora and fauna to create something that was fantastical, and at the same time, believable.

I had to see more. So I began to read the books from which the illustrations were taken.

I've recently completed the first book of the five-volume Young Adult series, The Field Guide. It's a very quick read: I finished it in two bus-rides. The Library of Congress blurb in the front of the book pretty much says it all:

When the Grace children go to stay at their great-aunt Lucinda's worn Victorian house, they discover a field guide to fairies and other creatures and begin to have some unusual experiences.

The illustrations are pen-and-ink, with a pronounced sketchy quality, like the scientific portraits that Darwin or Audubon might have drawn in their journals while observing nature in action. In his dedication, the artist, Tony DiTerlizzi, specifically thanks noted illustrator Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), hoping that he may "continue to inspire others as you have me." Rackham is also no doubt the visual inspiration for the titular Arthur Spiderwick, author of the eponymous Field Guide.

I especially liked the illustration on page 42 ("Just chop it."), depicting Mallory, the eldest of the three Grace children, with her hair tied to the bedstead in dozens of tangled braids by a malicious boggart. It's surreal.

I also liked the honesty of the book's depiction of childhood as a time of unfairness and fear. I feel that far too many authors (and people in general) look back on their childhoods through sepia-toned glasses. They forget the fear that accompanied each night in a strange house, the unfair conclusions to which adults often leap, and the powerlessness that a small child feels in relation to school, their older siblings, and their parents.

It's gratifying to see that some people still remember what it was like, being a kid in a grown-up's world.


  1. Speak for yourself, SuperDave...My childhood had fear in much different places than yours did by this account. Giant panda bears on the side of the road? Scary. Nights at a strange house? There was probably television and donuts for breakfast.

    The Spiderwick Chronicles are not particularly on my list of favorites.