Tony DiTerlizzi
& Holly Black,
The Ironwood Tree
(Simon & Schuster, 2004)

It was with great eagerness that I cracked open the covers of The Ironwood Tree, the tightly bound fourth volume of The Spiderwick Chronicles. Like the first three books in the series by writer Holly Black and writer/artist Tony DiTerlizzi, the finely crafted volume is itself half of the fun. It's easy to believe that this series is a holdover from an older time, when bookmakers took great pride in the heft and quality of their products.

But the story is a modern one, a contemporary fairy tale in which three young siblings discover a mysterious book and, soon after, the very real and often dangerous existence of faeries. While Lucinda's Secret, the third book in the series, provided a breather after the fast-paced events of The Field Guide and The Seeing Stone, The Ironwood Tree is the most frantic chapter for the three Graces yet.

Set two weeks after the events of the previous book, The Ironwood Tree takes place over a single evening. A simple after-school activity takes a malicious turn, and soon twin brothers Jared and Simon are braving the depths of a dwarven mine to rescue their ensorceled sister. Events unfold at a breakneck pace as they deal with a shapechanger, a kidnapping, a secret entrance, capture, connivance, treachery and escape. They see the face of the architect of all their recent misfortunes, and they witness a dreadful slaughter.

Less dire, perhaps, but no less real are Jared's problems at home and school, both of which may lead to terrible consequences for the well-meaning young boy.

The Spiderwick Chronicles continues to be an absorbing tale. Intending to read the first few pages, I found myself quickly reaching the end without pausing once along the way. Young readers will find this a challenging and enjoyable read, and children too young for the vocabulary will certainly enjoy having it read to them -- especially with DiTerlizzi's highly detailed black-and-white illustrations scattered throughout. And, while the children in this book are often in peril, nothing is so scary that this book's target audience should worry about nightmares as a result.

My only fear is the peril of impatience during the long wait until the fifth and final book in the series brings this adventure to a close.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 3 April 2004

Buy it from