Tony DiTerlizzi
& Holly Black,
The Field Guide
(Simon & Schuster, 2003)

"Delightful" is an overused word, but in this case, it's the best word for the job.

The Field Guide, the first book in The Spiderwick Chronicles, takes a well-used concept -- a misunderstood child discovers the existence of mythical creatures and is forever changed by the experience -- and sets a new standard both for storytelling and presentation.

I was particularly pleased to see something new from Holly Black, whose debut novel Tithe so impressed me last year. Now, coupled with writer/artist Tony DiTerlizzi and targeting a slightly younger audience, Black introduces readers to the Grace children, twins Jared and Simon and older sister Mallory, and their single mom Helen. Circumstances have forced them to rely on the kindness of a (crazy?) aunt, and they find themselves moving into a rambling, ramshackle Victorian house that needs a lot of maintenance work and, perhaps, a bit of metaphysical extermination.

There's a boggart (in this case, a very peeved brownie) living in the walls. There's also a secret room, a secret message and a hidden book, written by an eccentric ancestor, that details the existence of faery creatures. Jared, whose already in enough trouble at home and school, discovers the book and is determined to prove the existence of faeries whether his siblings believe him or not.

The story is well-told and colorful, easily enough to capture the imaginations of readers young and old. It's also short, just over 100 pages, so it's perfect for those with short attention spans. Printed as a pocket-sized hardback, it has the feel of a turn-of-the-century field guide -- even the pages seem a bit ragged at the edges for that authentic feel. (This is, the authors warn us, a true story delivered to them by the three Graces -- and it puts them in mortal danger just by revealing it to the general public!)

The artwork scattered throughout the book have a timeless feel as well, effectively illustrating the tale and giving faces to the characters involved.

The Field Guide introduces another touch of magic to the world, and anyone who has ever wanted to catch a glimpse of the otherworld or has dared to imagine that faeries are real should pick up a copy today. Meanwhile, I have the sequel, The Seeing Stone, on my desk and have some more reading to do.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 14 June 2003

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