The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1: The Field Guide, by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black

This is a very small book. It’s roughly the same size as a mass-market paperback, stuff and it’s barely over 100 pages long. There are also illustrations, rx taking away from the printed surface area. Considering I finished it in about 15-20 minutes, I suspect it’s less than 20,000 words. Had it been written for an older audience, it would be considered a short story. As it is, it’s probably intended for fourth- or fifth-graders, and maybe even younger (I probably would have read it in second or third grade, had it been around). Like so many fantasy series these days, it’s been turned into a movie – although I don’t know how many of the five books in the series are in it – which will be released next February. (From the previews, I’m guessing all five in one movie.) The cast looks pretty good – Mary-Louise Parker, Seth Rogen, David Strathairn (MLP plays the mother; DS is Arthur Spiderwick; not sure who or what SR is).

Three siblings – Jared, his twin Simon, and their older sister Mallory, move into an old Victorian house along with their mother, formerly inhabited by a great-aunt of theirs. Strange things start happening; they discover a hidden room with a library in it; there’s scrabbling, squirrel-like noises in the walls; Mallory’s hair gets tied to her bed . . . Something’s odd with the house, and the children must discover what’s going on and, preferably, fix it. In a hundred pages or less.

The characters are interesting, if a little stock: the troubled kid after the divorce; the other kid who collects animals; the single mother doing the best she can; the crazy great-aunt; the grand-relative with the collection of the occult . . . The plot is kind of obvious, too. I enjoy the writing style – pretty tight third person point of view, and sly bits of humor hidden in there – quite a bit. I suspect I’d need to read the other four before forming a really good idea of how much I liked the books. Young readers with a bit of an interest in fantasy would probably love it, since it’s a ‘chapter book’ but much shorter than, say, Harry Potter. (That wasn’t a jab against Harry Potter this time! I promise!) Older readers should probably wait until they put out an omnibus with all five books in one binding. At the moment it gets 4/5 stars for what it is by itself. Reviews for the other books will be posted within the next few weeks.

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