I have to admit that I'm prejudiced. With very few exceptions, I believe that the best books for young people are written by the British. For imagination, intelligence, and maturity nothing I've read by authors from any other country has matched anything that has come out of the British Islands. From the historical fiction of Geoffrey Treece, Arthur Ransom's sailing adventure stories (Swallows And Amazons) the fantasy of C.S. Lewis (Narnia) to today's magical Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, they have offered sufficient proof to convince me of their superiority in this field.
My prejudice has reached the point where I now automatically assume that any halfway decent novel for young people has to have been written by a Brit because no one else seems capable of achieving what they do in the field. So when I watched the DVD of The Spiderwick Chronicles for the first time I took it for granted the movie had been based on books by a British writer. Even the movie being set in the United States did nothing to shake me of my conviction as plenty of books have had their settings transposed to appease an American movie audience.
So to say I was surprised to discover that the book's author and illustrator, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, were both American was an understatement. I had been so delighted with the movie, I looked the books up on the Internet to find out who had published them to see if it were possible to obtain a review copy, and was directed to the Spiderwick Chronicles web site and found out the truth of the matter.
Of course I still hadn't read the books and there was always the off chance that they could suck, but given how good the movie was I seriously doubted that. Now, thanks to the good people at Simon & Schuster Canada who supplied me with a copy of The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Complete First Serial, an omnibus edition containing all five books, (The Field Guide, The Seeing Stone, Lucinda's Secret, The Ironwood Tree and The Wrath Of Mulgarath), I have confirmation that the books are every bit as, if not more, wonderful than the movie. Like the titles named earlier, these books have a timeless quality that will ensure them being read by children, and adults, for generations to come.
After the break-up of their parents' marriage, the three Grace children, Jared his twin brother Simon, and their older sister Mallory, have moved out of New York City to the country with their mother into the rundown house owned by their Great Aunt Lucinda. The house has stood empty for years, ever since Lucinda was committed to a psychiatric institution, and nearly half of it is uninhabitable. Almost from the first moment they move in they discover that the house hides a mysterious and perilous secret.
The first sign of trouble is a mysterious knocking in the walls, that leads to the discovery of some creature's nest made up of odds and sods of junk that its obviously collected over a period of years. Somehow, even though they have barely been there a day, a medal Mallory received for fencing from her previous school has ended up in amongst the other items However, it's in their great, great Uncle Arthur Spiderwick's hidden study in the upper reaches of the house, and what he had secreted in a trunk in the attic, where the real mystery and danger lie.
In a secret compartment of the trunk in the attic, Jared discovers an old and tattered book, Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide To The Fantastical World Around You. While finding the book was amazing, and discovering that their great, great uncle had painted all the illustrations and hand written the text was pretty cool, it was the contents of the book that was truly astounding. The Field Guide was crammed with illustrations and descriptions of magical and mythical creatures that Arthur Spiderwick claimed to have observed in the woods surrounding the house.
Needless to say their initial reaction is one of disbelief, that is only dispelled by meeting one of the beings described in the book, Thimbletack the household brownie. Thimbletack is able to assure them that the entire contents of the book are true, but he also says that by searching out and finding the book they have put themselves in grave danger. It seems that many of the magical creatures don't think it's a good idea for humans to be in on the fact that they exist and will stop at nothing to get the book back. If that isn't it bad enough, it turns out the information in the book would allow a fiendish ogre, Mulgarath, to take over the world and eliminate all other species.
Jared, Simon, and Mallory must pit their courage, wits, and ingenuity against the ogre and the various inhabitants of faerie; including goblins, elves, a griffin, dragons, dwarves, a variety of pixies, nixes and spites, and of course Mugarath the ogre if they hope to not only save their lives, but the world itself. Their adventures span the pages of all five books of The Spiderwick Chronicles and author Holly Black and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi have done an amazing job of not only bringing these adventures to life, but making their world very real.
Black's story not only includes adventures among the strange and wondrous creatures from the pages of Arthur Spiderwick's book, but also does a good job of describing the reality the kids deal with in the so called real world. Jared has been having a hard time adjusting to his parent's divorce and is continually losing his temper and getting in trouble at school. Unlike many books of this kind we never forget that our world exists and plays just as important a role in the character's lives as the fantastic one does.
Tony DiTerlizzi's illustrations are so good that it's hard to know how or where to begin when talking about them. Not only do they compliment the story perfectly by bringing all the characters to life, they add an element of wonder and enchantment that stirs the reader's imagination. Equally impressive are his illustrations of the human world, especially those of the children. He is able to capture the children's characteristics and ages with accuracy and charm.
The Spidderwick Chronicles are without a doubt one of the best series of stories that I have read for young readers in a long time. Intelligent, fun, and adventurous they deal with the real world and the fantastical with equal care and attention to detail so we never forget that it's all taking place in our world. I'm happy to say that my prejudices have been dispelled and I no longer believe that only the Brits can write high quality stories for children.