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The Spiderwick Chronicles, Books 1 & 2: The Field Guide and The Seeing Stone    by Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi order for
Spiderwick Chronicles, Books 1 & 2
by Holly Black
Order:  USA  Can
Listening Library, 2003 (2003)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In this audio volume, Hank Jacobs reads aloud the first two books of The Spiderwick Chronicles - The Field Guide and The Seeing Stone, and does a great job with a variety of human and faery speakers.

The Grace family (nine-year-old twins Jared and Simon, thirteen-year-old Mallory and their mother) move into a rundown Victorian mansion owned by Aunt Lucinda. She doesn't live there herself as she's in a home, where she speaks of little men who bring her food. After the children's father has left them, Jared has been in trouble at school and his mother hopes for a fresh start. Simon loves animals, Mallory is a fencing fanatic, but Jared has no particular talent.

There are rotting floorboards and odd noises in the walls - it's a veritable haunted house. Trying to track down the source of the sounds, the children find a strange nest, decorated with a cockroach mobile, unusual words on scraps of paper, and bits of glass. They throw it away. The next morning Mallory has been pinched black and blue and her long hair is knotted to the headboard of the bed. Their mother blames Jared for this and for another similar incident that follows.

Further exploration results in the discovery of a hidden, doorless room. There Jared works out a riddle to the location of a mouldering field guide to faery, which belonged to his great-great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick. He works out that the sounds have been made by the house brownie, who has turned into a boggart, and soon meets said creature. Pencil-sized Thimbletack, who speaks in rhyme, warns Jared to dispose of the field guide before it brings danger. Will the children take heed of his warning?

Well, no, of course not, which leads to the second episode, The Seeing Stone. In search of his missing cat, Simon is captured by invisible goblins, and it's up to Jared and Mallory, rapiers in hand, to come to the rescue. Thimbletack reluctantly helps them to find a Seeing Stone which gives one of them the Sight needed to perceive faery kind. This results in a funny fight, in which Jared directs the goblin-blind Mallory to attack opponents at 3 o'clock, 10 o'clock etc..

Following the bad guys into the woods, the children have a close call with a sinister, menacing troll. They come upon the globlins feasting on barbecued kitty in a clearing - additional appetizers (including Simon and a hobgoblin whose conversation is a hilarious stream of insults) hang in cages from a tree. The rescue (which expands to include an injured gryphon) is successful, the goblins get what they deserve, and Jared makes his peace with their boggart.

It's a wonderful new series - lying somewhere between Lemony Snicket and Darren Shan - that's accessible and fun for an age range from pre-teen to adult. Its young hero, Jared, is an angry (and not very well socialized) boy who learns to deal better with others, human and faery. At the same time, he discovers that his own strengths (less obvious than those of his siblings) have value, and he emerges as the leader of the sibling trio. My kids and I look forward to further episodes, starting with book 3, Lucinda's Secret.

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