I can’t afford the time to do many of these types books for the remaining two years of my Self-Doctorate, but sometimes I like to go back and read (at last) the children or young adult books I missed while growing up. And there were plenty… I didn’t have a very literary upbringing… Intellectually, I’ve been playing catch-up my whole life. Knowing that fact actually tells you far more about my personality that I’d normally care to volunteer.
So anyway, I read The Spiderwick Chronicles, which may or may not have even been out when I was a kid (I didn’t check the original publication date)… This series of fantasy books for children is by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. Actually, I only read the first book, “The Field Guide.”
DiTerlizzi and Black very early establish, and in very broad strokes, the general personalities of their three protagonists, a set of twin boys and their older sister, Mallory. Mallory is a fencer. Simon is an animal lover. Jared is the screw-up. The kids’ parents are divorced, and the mother is mostly absent and distant in the story, and when she does show up, it’s mostly to unjustly judge the children, to punish them, and to generally disregard and disbelieve them. She’s not portrayed as the standard evil mother figure some stories have. On the contrary– and sadly– we get the impression that she’s a fairly typical mom, and these children are her fairly typical kids. She represents authority at its worst: unsympathetic, decree-issuing, and punishment-bestowing.
On a brighter note, the book is illustrated bountifully with page-sized drawings that greatly enhance the overall enjoyment of the story. DiTerlizzi has chosen to draw in a style of good old-fashioned competence… things and people are pictured pretty much how you would have imagined them if your imagination was as good as DiTerlizzi’s. And, importantly for me, the artist chose to illustrate precisely the scenes that I WANTED to see illustrated.
DiTerlizzi’s images are basically a simplified realism drawn in a black-and-white, Victorianesque style. Another stylistic choice is that no one presented is particular cutesy or beautiful. The children are boney and ungainly, and the fantastical creatures are neither lovely nor adorable.
I should say at some point (so why not here?) that I didn’t find the story all that special. I’m sure this first book was never intended to stand on its own (probably always considered as a part of series), and I have to say, the first story certainly does NOT stand alone very well– I found the tale an unsatisfying adventure story with an unsatisfying ending. And earlier, when I described each main character with just a few words, each possessing one over-riding characteristic– well, that’s about all we get as far as character development. Jared, the MAIN main character, is more developed than the rest. Big sis Mallory is either too complex to come off well in single thin volume, or else she is just flat-out badly characterized… I didn’t “get” her at all.
Of course, one must remember, this is a children’s book… to have ANY character development is a treat, and one difficult to pull off within all the confines of the genre. J.K. Rowling did it, but only by BREAKING all the confines of the genre.
The thing I can most recommend about the book is the salutary moral concerning a certain, fantastical house creature… When the creature behaves badly toward the family, instead of fighting back and meeting meanness with meanness, Jared (who knows what it’s like to hurt and to lash out) attempts instead to UNDERSTAND why the creature is misbehaving. Instead of perpetuation and escalation, Jared tries to help the creature HEAL. What a concept!– for parents, for society… even for ourselves…
Jared knows what we all should know… any little creature treated badly enough can wilt away from his or her truest self and begin doing things that do not really represent who they truly are.