The Spiderwick Chronicles: Book 1, The Field Guide - 'Holly Black',  'Tony DiTerlizzi'
In this first installment in the famous Spiderwick Chronicles, we meet the Grace children - nine year old twins Simon and Jared and their older teen sister Malory - as they are moving into Spiderwick Estate. Each kid is dealing with the separation of their parents in their own unique way. Malory releases her agression through fencing. Simon retreats by quietly tending to his little animal friends. Jared, however, hasn't found a good outlet for his fear and anger. It's clear that he's long since exhausted his mother's reserves of patience and understanding. And so this damaged little family arrives at this similarly damaged house. It's clear to perceptive little Jared that all is not right with this house. Obviously, it's quite literally falling apart, but there is something else - sounds in the walls, secret rooms, and much more!

This really is a big fat teaser of a book. At only seven chapters, just as the story starts to build and you get really engaged it goes and ends - forcing you to seek out the next installment post-haste! I can't decide whether I should be annoyed or applaud the marketing genius behind that decision. I see some people comparing this both favorably and unfavorably with A Series of Unfortunate Events. I can see it - three siblings involved in mysterious and dangerous adventures. But really beyond that I think they're quite different. One is set in a gothic alternate reality type past, but involves a fairly realistic human threat. The other is firmly rooted in the present day, but the story quickly goes down a fantastical path. Also Spiderwick strikes me as much more of an earnestly kid-centric endeavor. I like the cheekiness of Unfortunate Events, but I think a lot of it (most of it?) goes over the intended audience's little heads. So, in some ways it's like comparing apples to oranges, but people do like to compare - I get that.

I think the real stand-out of this series are the illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi. I love a chapter book that has abundant illustrations! I've enjoyed DiTerlizzi's style before in numerous picture books - The Spider and the Fly, G Is for One Gzonk!: An Alpha-number-bet Book just to name a couple. I love how he is able to portray both the fantastical and absurd, but also the normal and mundane. That rare skill is used to great effect here! I don't think the series would have half the impact without his contribution. I really can't wait to read the next installment and I can't recall that last time I felt that way about an early chapter book series!