May 1, 2003 in Books

The Spiderwick Chronicles

“Appealing characters, well-measured suspense and an inviting package will lure readers” – Publisher’s Weekly

“Cleverly marketed as too dangerous to read, handsomely designed, and extravagantly illustrated this packs quite a punch. Readers who are too young to read Harry Potter independently will find these have just the right amount of menace laced with appealing humor and are blessed with crisp pacing and, of course, DiTerlizzi’s enticingly Gothic illustrations” – Kirkus

“With a plot full of twists and turns and wonderful illustrations, this is a book that will hook any reader or listener to a bizarre world that exists within our world, a remarkable creation of the authors’ imagination.” – Children’s Literature

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!

Five captivating books!
One thrilling adventure!
The Spiderwick Chronicles


TIME Magazine
From the June 9th, 2003 issue

Horror, In Pint Sizes: The Spiderwick Chronicles may have just enough spookiness to catch on with the pre — Harry P. set.


Monday, Jun. 09, 2003
Odd things happen to oddball kids who run in threes. Harry (as in Potter), Hermione and Ron endure all manner of spooky events at Hogwarts. Violet, Klaus and Sunny, better known as the Baudelaire orphans of the Lemony Snicket books, have dodged headless men and giant pinching machines.

Now the Grace kids, Mallory, Jared and Simon, are the latest tyro trio to find themselves entangled in creepy adventures. Especially after a busted marriage forces them to move from the city into a ramshackle Victorian manse. Mallory’s hair gets mysteriously knotted to the headboard of her bed. Simon’s tadpoles are frozen into an ice-cube tray. Blame seems to rest on Jared, until he uncovers a strange book, a field guide to faeries that identifies the culprits. Turns out faeries are not all Tinkerbell types; the genus encompasses goblins, hobgoblins, brownies, trolls, ogres, dwarfs and sprites, some of them quite intemperate.

Quaintly illustrated, but with plenty of modern childhood trauma, The Spiderwick Chronicles (Simon & Schuster) are aimed at kids too young for Lemony. Authors Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi even make like Snicket creator Daniel Handler on book tours, playing coy about authorship. Sales magic seems to be afoot, at least; The Field Guide and The Seeing Stone, the first two volumes of the Chronicles, hit the New York Times children’s best-seller list the week of their release.

And why not? The books wallow in their dusty Olde Worlde charm: Faeries! Dumbwaiters! Attics! But then, reading has an old-fashioned charm too.

November 9, 2004, Tuesday,

‘Spiderwick’ wraps the scary in a ‘cozy’ package
Jacqueline Blais

In the world of kid-lit, a certain kind of scary book is in demand: Gothic Lite.

The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black — “more cozy than chilling” — fills the bill, says Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book Magazine, which covers children’s books.

In the imagined Spiderwick world, twins Jared and Simon, 9, and sister Mallory, 13, move into a falling-down Victorian house with their divorced mom, a nice librarian who does not notice that the house and yard are teeming with faeries, ogres, brownies, griffins, trolls and goblins. The Grace kids, of course, do.

These chapter books are aimed at the pre-Harry Potter set, ages 7 and up. Writer Black describes the stories as “unnerving and frightening, not little horror stories . . .  more adventure than anything else.” Adds illustrator DiTerlizzi, who helped develop the story line: “But they have to have danger, just like any fairy tale. Kids don’t want it candy-coated. They want a little grit.”

The five Spiderwick books are a little more than 100 pages each, invitingly illustrated and small enough to hold easily. But, as DiTerlizzi told one fan: “Dude, when you’re done, you’ve read a 500- to 600-page book.” That fan would be Alexander Carr, 10, of Alexandria, Va., who once was what is called euphemistically a reluctant reader. Reading was “evil,” he says, his hand chopping downward. He started the first in the series, The Field Guide, one night, woke up in the morning, found the book at his side and started reading more. “These books are so fun, they’re easy, they’re what I like,” he says. The books are “adventurous, not scary.” Alexander concedes that the books might be a “little scary, but I know (the Grace kids) are going to be OK, because then they wouldn’t have published the books.”

The first two, The Field Guide and The Seeing Stone, were published in May 2003. Lucinda’s Secret came out in October 2003, and The Ironwood Tree was published in April. The fifth and concluding The Wrath of Mulgarath  arrived in September. Mulgarath did best on the USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list, making the top 50 for three weeks this fall. The books are now in 30 languages, and about 2.5 million are in print, says Tracy van Straaten of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.

Black, 32, and DiTerlizzi, 35, say that in the real world, their styles mesh well. They knew from the start that they were kindred spirits. Black interviewed DiTerlizzi for the now-defunct d8 magazine about his work on Dungeons & Dragons’ Planescape. They discovered they owned and loved the same book growing up: Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee, a favorite about otherworldly creatures.They introduced their spouses (DiTerlizzi’s wife, Angela DeFrancis, and Black’s husband, Theo) to each other so everyone could bond. As DiTerlizzi described the meeting of the couples: “Here were another set of nerds, as geeky as we were.” Black and DiTerlizzi work so well together that they moved to the same town, Amherst, Mass., and when they talk, they finish each other’s sentences. DiTerlizzi plotted out the book like a chess game, and Black worried about character development, especially Jared, who always is in trouble. A snippet from an interview demonstrates how they have developed a kind of shorthand with each other. DiTerlizzi: “I kept asking, ‘Where’s the innermost cave?’ ” Black: “Well, Jared’s very angry right now.” DiTerlizzi dedicates the series to Arthur Rackham, an early 20th century illustrator famed for his work on such classics as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Black, who says she grew up in a household where ghosts were everyday companions, dedicates her work to her grandmother. Black also is the author of the teen fantasy Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale.

Black and DiTerlizzi say this is the end of the Grace children’s story: They don’t want to put Jared, Simon and Mallory through any more torture. But it is not the end of tales from Spiderwick. Coming next summer: The Spiderwick Chronicles: Notebook for Fantastical Observations, an illustrated journal for children to record their own spritely creatures — “strange occurrences in their yard, playground, so forth,” DiTerlizzi says. And next fall: Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, an illustrated replica of the field guide that the Grace kids discover in their haunted home.

The New York Times
June 22, 2003, Sunday
By Scott Veale

Tapping into the same (lucrative) vein of fantasy-mystery as the Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket franchises, ”The Field Guide,” part of a planned series of five, introduces young readers to the Grace children: Jared, a habitual troublemaker; his twin brother, Simon, who is obsessed with his menagerie of pets and wild critters; and their bossy but basically cool older sister, Mallory.

Following their parents’ divorce, they move with their mother to a ramshackle Victorian mansion belonging to their Aunt Lucinda, who, as Jared notes portentously, is ”in a nuthouse.” Before long, rustlings in the walls lead them to a weird nest with garlands of dead cockroaches, tiny lead soldiers and bits of old silk. Jared discovers his Uncle Arthur’s secret library and, eventually, a crumbling book titled ”Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You,” a handy primer on the fairies, goblins and other creatures that inhabit the estate.

It turns out the house contains a type of fairy, known as a brownie, that is generally nice but goes crazy and becomes a boggart when you make it angry: ”Boggarts delight in tormenting those they once protected and will cause milk to sour, doors to slam, dogs to go lame and other malicious mischief,” the guide informs them. Now they know who lived in that wall! So the kids make a fine new home from a large birdhouse, and soon after are on speaking terms with a pencil-size fellow named Thimbletack, whose help is vital in the second book in the series, when Simon is captured by a roving band of goblins.

With their evocative gothic-style pencil drawings and color illustrations, rhyming riddles, supernatural lore and well-drawn characters, these books read like old-fashioned ripping yarns. They are suitably gross, suitably snarky, suitably creepy, suitably fast-paced (coming in at an un-Potteresque 100 pages or so) and suitably ghastly—wait until you get to the goblins roasting a cat on a spit. Most important, they are suitably suspenseful, with each installment whetting young appetites for the next.

Listen to celebrated actor, mark hamill, read from book 3:

Audio Excerpt

Fellow Spiderwickians! Click here to download the SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES Board Game and click here to download the Game Cards! (pdf format)

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