Ever since Harry Potter first went to Hogwarts, the field of young adult fantasy novels has been growing at the speed of a unicorn's gallop. Among them are the novels in "The Spiderwick Chronicles" series created by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, featuring 13-year-old Mallory Grace and her twin brothers, Jared and Simon, who encounter all sorts of faeries after moving to the abandoned estate of Arthur Spiderwick, their great-great-uncle. Spiderwick mysteriously vanished in 1935, leaving behind a wife, a daughter and his life's work, "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You" (Simon & Schuster: 124 pp., $24.95), which aids the Grace children in their adventures.
The field guide is just the sort of book for children to share with their parents in a big easy chair. Peeking from its pages are the toothy, grinning house brownie, which often hides as a mote of dust, and the wandering clump, a faerie masquerading as tall weeds. Also included are several lavish full-color pullouts -- get ready to ooh at paintings of the North American griffin and the Old World wyrm -- that position the fictional Spiderwick as the John James Audubon of the faerie world. Not all faeries are cute as Tinker Bell, however, and later pages of the guide present chilling banshees, spitting gargoyles, a trickster called the black phooka and the insect-like will-o'-the-wisp, which uses its ghostly glow to lure travelers off trustworthy forest paths.
Unlike the old wardrobe leading into C.S. Lewis' Narnia, no special entrance into the Spiderwick faerie realm is needed. As an introductory note explains: "It is all around you. In ancient forests. Beneath the still earth and rolling waves. Among the clouds and even under your own roof." This guide draws deeply on the lore of many world traditions and feeds young imaginations with a rich alternative to the stories and fables of the PlayStation and Xbox.
Nick Owchar is deputy editor of Book Review.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times