The Field Guide by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi is the first book in the Spiderwick Chronicles series. With a movie coming out in February 2008 and a video game in development, it’s safe to say that the series of fantasy adventure books is going to be with kids for a while. So if you haven’t discovered this little treasure trove of goodness, now is the time to jump on board.
School started back this week. I always read to my elementary-grade school kid. And I’ll probably read to him until he’s big enough to make me stop. He’s in fourth grade now, and laid up with a possibly broken foot, so he’s a captive audience.
I’ve saved the Spiderwick Chronicles till now because they’re short and punchy. We’ve been reading Alex Rider and Charlie Bone, which are much longer books, but I wanted to ease him back into the concept of reading.
The Field Guide clocks in at only 107 pages, and is chock full of beautiful and intriguing illustrations that capture a young reader’s mind all on their own. We read the book in two sittings, and Chandler grumbled both times because we quit at cliffhanger spots.
Even the ending is a cliffhanger. There are five books in this initial series (more are on the way), and they’re not so much individual books as they are a longer novel that’s been serialized into five bite-sized chunks. They also come in a nifty box set.
The story is awesome and jumps right in with both feet. After Dad leaves the family (it isn’t explained why), twins Jared and Simon and their older sister Mallory Grace move into a creepy old house on the Spiderwick Estate. The house is part of their mom’s family holdings and hasn’t been used in some time.
Almost immediately weird things start happening, and it begins with something scratching inside the walls and scurrying all over the house. Simon wants to find out what it is because he thinks it’s a squirrel, and he’s the pet lover in the group. Jared tends to be the one who fights because he hasn’t quite adjusted to the idea of Dad leaving. Mallory is interested in fencing (with swords, not wooden barriers around yards!).
Together, they begin their investigation and quickly find a dumbwaiter inside the wall that leads up to a secret room with no doors. The room is filled with books – and it also has a threatening note (written in rhyme) that tells them they should all leave. Of course, the kids have nowhere to go and they’re not going to just walk away from a puzzle.
The story continues to get more creepy and intense (Mallory wakes up with her hair tied in knots to her bed and Simon gets beaten black and blue). Worst of all, Mom blames Jared for everything, and his brother and sister aren’t sure that he didn’t do it. There isn't a whole lot of action yet because everything is getting set up, but the book's atmosphere is spooky and mysterious, which is just how kids like it.
I read these books by myself before I started reading them to my son. I was intrigued. The illustrations and the handsome hardbound editions, especially in the boxed set, are simply a delight. I even bought a set for my wife’s fourth grade class and got the school librarian to order a set for the kids.
I loved watching my son’s mind work as he tried to figure out the puzzles and clues. And it was great to see his imagination kick into high gear as he saw all of DiTerlizzi’s fantastic illustrations.
These are definitely books kids will enjoy. More than that, though, these are truly awesome books to share with your child. Both of you will be carried away to another, slightly darker and more dangerous, world. And you’ll both be stoked for the movie. Trailers for it are on the Internet now.