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Title: The Field Guide (The Spiderwick Chronicles #1)

Authors: Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

Published: 2003

Format: Paperback – 123 pages

Hello Hello! How are you?

I’m so excited to finally be getting to the review of The Field Guide, it was my second book for the #hypeathonreadathon for #Faebruary and I really enjoyed it! I saw the film last year and knew I wanted to pick up the books so #Faebruary felt like the perfect time to do just that! Keep reading to find out my thoughts on this book!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

After finding a mysterious, handmade field guide in the attic of the ramshackle old mansion they’ve just moved into, Jared, his twin brother Simon, and their older sister, Mallory, discover that there’s a magical and maybe dangerous world existing parallel to our own—the world of Faerie. The Grace children want to share their story, but the faeries will do everything possible to stop them.

MY REVIEW

The Field Guide is the first book in the children’s/middle-grade fantasy series that follows the Grace children as they discover that the world as they know it is not what it seems. In this first book, Jared Grace, seemingly the outcast of his family, discovers a secret library in his great aunt’s house in which his family and he are staying. He follows a riddle and stumbles upon an old book, written by Arthur Spiderwick, filled with stories, pictures, illustrations and a myriad of information about faeries, and many other fantastical creatures. Along the way, Jared and his siblings come into contact with a household boggart, called Thimbletack. The book is written from a third-person point of view with an external perspective, this was a good choice because it really gives the reader the feeling that a narrator is speaking, much like when narrators tell the characters’ story in many children’s films.

SETTING

The Field Guide is set on the Spiderwick Estate and even though it is not said in which country, we can assume that it is in the United States. The Grace family have moved into their great Aunt Lucinda’s run-down mansion following their father leaving them and their mother wanting them to move away and start afresh.

During this first book, the reader visits many different rooms in this house, serving to really set the atmosphere nicely. I really liked how this whole book was written, to be easy for children to read, but also giving a really nice fantastic and magical atmosphere to the whole story and setting.

The whole house is apparently derelict and falling to pieces, except for the kitchen, which is described as very old-fashioned; Simon’s and Jared’s bedroom, Mallory’s bedroom, their mother’s bedroom and the secret library. The first night they get to the house, the siblings hear a noise coming from a wall and after finding a nest inside the wall, Simon decides to go upstairs by a hidden dumbwaiter system. This is when he discovers the secret library, filled with books, specimens, and artifacts, supposedly belonging to Arthur Spiderwick, Lucida’s father.

I think the secret library/office was my favourite place in the house, you really get a sense of magic when Jared is describing this room and it is also here that the siblings meet Thimbletack for the first time and talk to him.

CHARACTERS

For a children’s book, there is quite a nice cast of characters, and they are all described in a way to remember them vividly.

Jared Grace: I suppose you could say that Jared is the main character because he is the sibling on which this story focuses the most. I really like Jared, he seems very misunderstood as a character and he is definitely the trouble maker of the two brothers. I think that when his father left his mother, it hit him really hard, so it feels like he needs this adventure and he needs to believe in these magical creatures and fantastical possibilities to get over the betrayal of his father abandoning him. I do really like him as a character and hopefully, the next books will focus on him even more.

Simon Grace: He is the twin who doesn’t want to believe in the uncanny or the supernatural, he always behaves properly and never sets a foot out of line. I’d say that at the start he comes across as a bit of a “stuck-up” character, but as the book goes on, we realise that he is quiet and has his animals because he too is suffering from their father abandoning them. We don’t learn much about Simon other than the fact that he loves animals and rescues them everywhere he goes, so I’m hoping to get some more impressions of him in the subsequent books.

Mallory Grace: She is Simon and Jared’s older sister. I’m still not sure whether I really like her, she really exudes the “older sibling” vibes. I have an older brother who annoys me so much sometimes so maybe that’s why I’m not a great fan of Mallory, lol! She seems very sporty, witty and sarcastic but she also comes across as loyal towards her family.

Helen Grace: She is the Grace children’s mother, we don’t learn much about her but she generally comes across as a tired mum who needs a break. She isn’t overly realistic, but after all, the story isn’t about her, it’s about her children so it makes sense for her to be more in the background of the plot.

Thimbletack: He is the Household Boggart whose nest the siblings stumble upon in the kitchen wall the first night they move into Lucinda’s house. We only get to really meet him at the end of the first book, this is when he starts to talk in riddles to Jared and his siblings about Arthur Spiderwick’s book and the danger that surrounds it. He comes across as very cautionary and loyal towards Arthur Spiderwick, he doesn’t want the house to come to harm and knows that the book is best left forgotten about, or even destroyed and urges Jared to listen to his warnings.

Absent characters: The Grace’s father is absent from the plot but he is spoken about on a few occasions. We learn that he is no longer a part of their lives and that he has somewhat abandoned them, we don’t really get any more context than that, other than the fact that Jared is very upset and angry towards him, that he takes out all of his anger on the people around him who try to help him. Lucinda Spiderwick is their great aunt and the owner of the house into which they move. She doesn’t appear in the first book but from seeing the film, I know that she makes a few appearances further on into the story. She is described as being mad and apparently lives in an asylum, or mental care hospital for the elderly. Arthur Spiderwick is the author of the book that Jared finds in the attic, he is also Lucinda’s father. We learn a lot more about him through Thimbletack and his Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, in the next books in the series and I’m hoping that the books will give the same, if not more information as the film did.

THEMES

I really like how a lot of emotions and family themes are entwined into magical ones because it opens a lot of possibilities to talk to children about more serious things. These are a few different themes that I came across in the first installment of The Spiderwick Chronicles.

Family/Siblings: We get quite a strong sense of family between the siblings, and even though their mother is not very present in the first book, you can tell that she tries to take on both the maternal and paternal roles, as best as she can in order to raise her children. She has taken her children away from the city and to the rural Spiderwick Estate in the hopes of starting over. Even though the siblings fight quite a lot and get into trouble, they do seem quite close-knit and I’m looking forward to seeing their relationships blossom in the next books.

Coming of age: As I have already said, Jared is suffering from the absence of his father and I think that his discovery of Arthur Spiderwick’s library and book, as well as his introduction to the world of faeries, is the first step in him becoming his true self. I do think that this is a good example of a coming of age and it is a lovely read for any child and even adult who is a bit lost. Sometimes you just need some faeries to put you on the right track.  

Faeries and magical creatures: As you may already know, this is one of my all-time favourite themes in any time of book of any genre. The mention of faeries, magic or creatures is enough to make me want to read any book! Even though we don’t learn much about the magic system or the magical creatures in this fantasy world, we do get a nice first look at them through the household boggart. I’m really looking forward to learning more about them and hopefully, we get more information than what is offered in the film.

Mental illness: Now, although there are not any episodes or descriptions of mental illness in this first book, from what I remember of the film, Aunt Lucinda is portrayed as a severely mentally ill person, because she apparently sees faeries who talk to her and bring her food. The reader obviously knows that this is true and that she is not suffering from a mental illness, but it is hinted at in the first book with words like “mad” and “nut house”, so just keep that in mind if you are sensitive to this theme. I like how the authors have featured this in the book because it is a good way to introduce mental illness to children and it is probably a lot easier for them to comprehend this way.

Abandonment and anger: Lastly, I do want to touch on these two elements; Jared’s father has abandoned him and his family, it is talked about quite a lot, and most of Jared’s anger is linked to this. Jared is angry that his father left, but so are his mother and siblings, they just don’t show it like Jared does. Jared is definitely a misunderstood and angry young boy. These themes have been approached in a sensitive manner thanks to the fantastical and magical elements.

MY THOUGHTS AND RATING

Overall, I enjoyed this first book a lot. It is a children’s book, but it is a sensitive children’s book, interweaving serious family issues with magic and supernatural creatures. It’s a really good book to read to/as children, but also a really good book to read as an adult. I think that this first installment sets the scene nicely for the following books and I’m really looking forward to diving into this world again. I read The Field Guide really fast and I think that it would be a very good choice for children who have good reading instincts and want a bit more out of their reading experience.

I think it was really important for the authors to add some more serious themes to this fantastical backdrop and I really like the way they pulled this off without giving a sinister atmosphere to the story.

I’m giving this book a 4-star rating because I’m hoping that in the next books we’ll get some more information and things will be a bit more detailed. I’m looking forward to seeing how some other magical creatures are described and I can’t wait to meet Aunt Lucinda because I remember her vividly from the film.

That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed this review, see you soon,

Ellie xx

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