For the past month I’ve been reading the 5 books of The Spiderwick Chronicles to kiddo. Because there was more than one book, I didn’t do the regular Mom & Son Book Club questions each time. Instead I asked him his thoughts at the end of the series. First I’ll give you his impressions (with commentary from me, as usual) then I’ll give you mine. After that, I’ll give you some info on the audio books and the movie. I know this is a long post but I hope you’ll stick around (or at least skip to the sections that you’re most interested in!).
My questions to kiddo …
Did you like the books? Yes, they were good. I know he really liked them because he’s carried around the Field Guide and pretended to be battling ogres for the past month.
What was your favorite part? I don’t have a favorite part because there were so many books. Maybe I should have asked this after each book …
What was your least favorite part? I don’t have one.
What did you think of the pictures? They were good but they need more color. This was the first book we’ve read that didn’t have pictures on every page. Once I explained to kiddo how to close his eyes and think about the words, he did a great job imagining what was happening. He didn’t mind the lack of pictures, but as always he’s not a fan of black and white illustrations.
Would you recommend this book to your friends? Hmm. I’m not sure. I don’t think so. Why? It might be too scary for them. Was is too scary for you? No, but my friends might be scared. I agree! But more on that in a minute.
My thoughts on these books …
I have mixed feeling about this series.
On the pro side, the story is quite adventurous, the plot is exciting, the magical world is unique in some ways, and kiddo really enjoyed it. The illustrations are lovely, and the companion book, The Field Guide, is a real treasure. I'm planning to buy it for kiddo. (Yes, I said BUY, not swap. It's a miracle, I know.)
Then there are the cons. First off, I didn’t appreciate some of the language. One character’s favorite phrase is “Oh crap!”. That’s not something I want kiddo to say.* Then there’s a Cheshire Cat-like character who speaks in riddles, one of which contains the word “ass”. In the context it isn’t clear if it means donkey or not. Seriously, is that necessary in a children's book? The nice thing about reading aloud is that I could change the words whenever I thought they were inappropriate.
Another con is the way that the children speak to each other. In the story, their family is going through a divorce and things are hard for the kids (who never really got along anyway). I know kids are mean to each other – my sister and I were the same way! – but again, is it really necessary to keep saying “shut up” or “you’re so stupid” to each other? And I mean ALL THE TIME, people. I think it was apparent from early on that the kids don't get along; why not just leave it at that?
Then, of course, there is the creepiness factor. The goblins eat CATS and other small creatures! If your kiddo is an animal lover then this book is not appropriate. They have creepy teeth and the attack the kids more than once. In my opinion, there were some really creepy things that happened in these books. Kiddo, however, didn’t get creeped out at all. He loved every part of it. And when I thought more about it I realized that I was 7 years old when I read The Hobbit for the first time and I didn’t find it creepy or strange or anything. I guess 6 year old kiddo is a lot like me at that age.
So, to summarize the books, if you have an extra sensitive kiddo then don’t read these. But if you have an adventurous kiddo – and you don’t mind the language I mentioned earlier – then you’re good to go.
On the audio books …
After finishing the books, we got the audio version from the library. Kiddo listens to it when he’s getting ready for school, taking a shower, brushing his teeth, or any other time he can. It was definitely helpful to him that we read the books first; he gets distracted when he’s listening sometimes, but he can always pick up the story again quickly because he already knows what's happening.
The downside of audio books is that you can't change the words like you can when you're reading aloud. Kiddo was quick to point out when the kids said not nice things. "I know that's not nice mom," he'd say, as if I were expecting him to start saying it too. Well, at least he knows the difference between acceptable and unacceptable language in our house - that's a good thing.
Huge coolness factor for us is that the narrator is Mark Hamill – you know, the guy who played Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars movies? Star Wars is kiddo’s biggest passion (alongside Legos) so this was an extra bonus for him. (Yes, I chose a picture of Mark when he was younger. Sorry, but he's just not that cute now!) Mark did an excellent job with the narration, changing his voice to portray a wide variety of crazy characters.
Has your kiddo ever listened to audio books? In general I highly recommend them – they're better than TV, that’s for sure!
On the movie …
After reading the books I was shocked to see that the movie is only rated PG. But once we watched it I can totally see why. The movie is a watered down version of the book! Crazy, right? I mean, this discussion of The Water Horse (which continued in the comments) made it clear that THAT movie was way more intense than the book. But that’s just not the case here.
The movie removes most of what is most creepy in the books. Yes the goblins still eat cats, but they don’t TELL you that; you see something in the background cooking over a fire that you may or may not recognize as a cat (and your kids probably won’t - I only did because I was looking for it). The kids still get attacked but it’s not as bad as in the book. The hobgoblin character is made out to be a good friend to the kids, rather than a sometimes good-guy sometimes bad-guy as he is in the book. The ogre is still big and dangerous but not nearly as much as in the book. The dwarves and the wormy-dragony things don’t appear in the movie at all. And the ending is different too – much more “happily ever after” than the book.
Kiddo really enjoyed the movie, and I did as well. It’s not fantastic but it is fun. After we watched it kiddo and I had a discussion about the ways that movies are different from books. He liked both the books and the movie equally, but he could easily point out all the ways they were different. Of course, this led into a discussion of Harry Potter movies vs. books. Can you guess which big book we’ll be reading together next?!
* Yes, I know that kiddo is only 6 and that this book is designed for kids ages 9-12, but I don’t want kiddo using that language when he’s that age either. If that makes me sound like a prude, so be it (but you obviously don’t know me that well if that’s what you think! ~LOL~).