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Monday, February 10, 2014

MG Review: The Spiderwick Chronicles

LOOK IT'S A REVIEW! ARE YOU SURPRISED? I'm a little surprised, honestly. It's been a long time since I've done one of these! So, um, be gentle on me?

The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Complete First Serial by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black

Published: As a bind-up, in 2004 by Simon and Schuster for Young Readers. The books individually were published in 2003 and 2004.
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Binding: Harcover
Page Count: Goodreads is saying around 600. The first four books are about 100 pages long and the fifth is the longest at about 130. There's also some stuff that isn't numbered so it probably does round out at around 600 pages.
Part of a series? Yes, and I'll add some information a little bit later about this.
Amazon link for boxed set / Amazon link to the first book / Book Depository for the boxed set / Book Depository for the first book / IndieBound link to the boxed set / IndieBound link to the first book

Summary (from goodreads): It all started with a mysterious letter left at a tiny bookstore for authors Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. Its closing lines: "We just want people to know about this. The stuff that has happened to us could happen to anyone." Little could they imagine the remarkable adventure that awaited them as they followed Jared, Simon, and Mallory Grace and a strange old book into a world filled with elves, goblins, dwarves, trolls, and a fantastical menagerie of other creatures. The oddest part is in entering that world, they didn't leave this one!

Review: First of all, let me explain this a little for anyone who is a little confused because I had to look this up, too. This copy that I read is a bind-up of the first five books which is referred to as the first serial, or the first series, also known as "The Spiderwick Chronicles". Each book has an individual plot, but the series also has an over-reaching plot arc (and they read really well as a set, honestly). There are also three books other books, Goblins Attack, Troll Trouble, and Great Escape which are apparently the second book plus bonus material? (I'm not entirely sure myself as I haven't read them.) There's a second series of three books, The Nixie's Song, A Giant Problem, and The Wyrm King which I have not read but seem to feature different characters.

You also can get some bonus books like the actual Spiderwick Guide, The Care and Feeding of Sprites, an activity-type book where you can make your own notebook, and a scrapbook by Thimbletack, the brownie. I actually really like the idea of that and totally would have been into all the bonus material as a kid. Also possibly as an adult.

Plot Talk: I saw the movie adaptation of this long before I read it and more than once, too. If you have seen the movie, it's actually a fairly decent adaptation. The plot of the movie basically takes the plot of the five books and smooths it out into one plot. While some things are obviously different, the five books do have a pretty strong overall plot through out and I honestly think it works really well to have all five of them together. But my view will obviously be biased because I read them all at once. Each of the books does have an individual plot, but they can feel a little cliff-hangery. And while as an adult, that can be infuriating because I want to know what happens, it's also a good way to get kids hooked on them.

Characters: I really liked the portrayal of Jared in this. Jared has a lot of anger issues from his parents' divorce. He lashes out and misbehaves in ways that feel realistic if you've been in that situation or known someone who has. The best part, though, is that he doesn't always understand why he does things he does and that can totally be a thing that happens. It feels like it's not you. He also does not like the way he behaves and regrets it when he lashes out. It's a very good thing to see and it's worth noting that it's something that he deals with for basically the full five books. There's no magic fix, but they aren't constantly dwelt on, either, which can come off unrealistic.

Mallory and Simon, not being the POV character, are somewhat smaller characters, but one thing I really appreciated was the relationship between the siblings. They got along sometimes, but not always, and they worked together in a way that made their strengths and weaknesses balance them into a great team. They also very obviously cared about each other, even when they didn't always show it.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc: There's some toilet humour that I'm not entirely fond of. There is also a scene where a vision is shown, although briefly, of the death of both a unicorn and a young girl and I'm kind of on the fence on whether it was necessary. Other than that, I don't really have anything.

PG-13 stuff: Again, there's some toilet humour. There's a handful of cr-words, once a donkey is referred to by a word that is not donkey and one chapter has the H-word in the title. Part of the plot of the books is that a character is hospitalized for suspected self-harm due to fairy violence and it's pretty plainly put. There's the vision mentioned of a unicorn being hunted and killed for its horn and a girl dying alongside it which isn't described vividly or anything but might be a shock, a non-graphic - but upsetting to the characters - killing of a group of dwarves, and some animal violence by the fairies. Sensitive kids might have some problems with these and if your kid is, I'd preread them. It didn't take me that long, although I'm a fairly quick reader.

The back of my bind-up says ages 7 and up and I would honestly disagree with that. I would say at the youngest, 8 and up, and preferably more like 9 or 10, as a guideline. Obviously, kids vary, and I realize kids read up, but I think for most kids, 7 is going to be way too young. Most 7 year olds aren't going to understand a lot of what's going on and a fair amount of it might be upsetting.

Cover comments: I quite like the cover. It's simple, but it works well. I also do like the way it's designed to look like an old book a little. And, this is totally a weird Laina thing, but you know how some books are like a little bit matte, but they'll have glossy parts? This is one of those and I really like that. And, another weird Laina thing, but the pages are cut so that they don't all line up. You know that look, like with the Lemony Snicket hardcovers? And I like that because I'm weird and a little superficial sometimes.

And, because I don't exactly have a part for this, I think here I'm going to talk about the extra stuff. There are lots of illustrations. Not too many, though. It's a good balance, especially for the age group that I'd recommend these for. Most are in black and white, but each book has a couple full-colour illustrations. (Is that true in the individual ones? Does anyone know?) The illustrations really fit the book well, and sometimes include things like maps, news articles, samples from the Guide, drawings of Jared's. I always loved things like that as a kid and I think they're used very well here.

Conckusion: I really liked this series. I like how the set-up is that all this really happened, sort of like the Series of Unfortunate Events books, to bring that series up twice in a review that has nothing to do with them, and as a kid who loved those books, I would have loved these even though they aren't really similar beyond that premise. I liked the characters, they were written in a way that I know I would have connected to as a kid, and I really love fairy lore. I was surprised by these, but they're going to be a solid four over all and I highly recommend them.

(Look, I have new roses!)

Other notes:

- I don't really have anything except that for some reason, my notebook smells like perfume. Except it's reminding me of a perfume I owned several years ago, not a perfume I own now. It's kind of weird! But, hey, nice smell, at least.

Peace and cookies,

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