A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Bad Beginning is the first book the exciting 13-volume series titled A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler). It follows the perilous fate of the three Baudelaire orphans, who are sent to live with the evil Count Olaf, a distant cousin, after their parents die. The bleak, gothic atmosphere of The Bad Beginning keeps readers holding their breath, as will the damsel-on-train-tracks adventure. Periodic gusts of wicked humor from narrator Snicket, allow readers to start breathing again. There's more menace than violence, but there are scenes where a baby is threatened with being dropped from a tower and a boy is struck across the face. Kids will learn lots of new vocabulary words, which Snicket cleverly explains in context, and be exposed to many literary references that may sail over their heads but are a big part of the fun (especially for older readers).
What's the story?
A cliff-hanging adventure wrapped in black -- very black -- humor marks "The Bad Beginning," by Lemony Snicket (the pen name of author Daniel Handler) and his equally fiendish illustrator, Brett Helquist. The story follows the grim-fated progress of the recently orphaned Baudelaire children, and their mistreatment at the hands of their abominable distant cousin, Count Olaf, right to the bittersweet, to-be-continued ending.
Is it any good?
Snicket successfully negotiates the treacherous waters of gallows humor in this first volume of his Series of Unfortunate Events. Like Edward Gorey, his success is due to the formal, deadpan quality of his fine writing and his understated way with catastrophe. The result is at once grim, sinister, and terrifically entertaining.
The book doesn't get by on ghoulishness alone; it needs a story, and it has a good one. Snicket keeps readers off balance: He states flatly that things won't turn out right for the Baudelaires, then holds out some promise, only to snatch it back. The story is enlivened by Helquist's occasional artwork.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the black humor in this book. Do you enjoy this kind of humor? Does it mix well with the sinister aspect of the story?
How do you like the formal language of the narrator? Do you like learning the many unusual words he includes and explains?
What's fun -- and sometimes funny -- about characters being in danger?
- Author: Lemony Snicket
- Illustrator: Brett Helquist
- Genre: Adventure
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
- Publication date: January 1, 1999
- Number of pages: 162
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