The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1

Common Sense Media says

A cliff-hanging adventure wrapped in black humor.

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

Narrator Lemon Snicket introduces kids to many sophisticated vocabulary words, often explained in context with sly humor. The book is also filled with literary references some kids may get, or may need a little help form their parents.

Positive messages

Never give up, no matter how bleak things look, and take care of one another in  your family. Use your intelligence and special skills to get yourself out of trouble. Things are not always what they seem, and beware of deceitful people who will say or do anything to get their way.

Positive role models

The Baudelaire children are brave, resilient, resourceful, and remain undaunted, even though they are in near-constant peril.  Violet, the eldest, is super smart and clever; Klaus is adept at finding answers in books and remembering key, useful facts he discovers in them; and baby Sunny resorts to biting bad guys when necessary.

Violence

Due to the death of their parents, the orphans must live with a vicious relative. The orphans are often in danger in such scenes as a baby being threatened with being dropped from a tower and a boy being struck across the face.

Sex
Not applicable
Language
Not applicable
Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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).

Parents say

Kids say

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?

QUALITY
 

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.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

This review of The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1 was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Written byAnonymous August 12, 2011
AGE
7
QUALITY
 

Excellent and engaging.

The Bad Beginning is the start to arguably one of the best book series in recent memory. Kids often find reading boring, but it is difficult to critique this book given the lack of boring parts. They will be interested, but adults will probably also enjoy and will understand it better. The Bad Beginning is about Count Olaf, a very evil man, and three children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire. The three siblings have recently experienced a house fire that caused both their parents to die. The three are the inheritors of a large fortune from their parents but are not old enough to get it. As a result, they must live with their "cousin" Count Olaf, who intends to get that fortune all to himself and uses a plethora of evil plans to do so. Despite seeming childish, this book is fairly realistic. The characters act realistically and the situations are very well described and seem like they could happen to an unfortunate group of siblings. Throughout the series, for the most part anyway, the three siblings are excellent role models for the children and send good messages, even though Olaf sends his share of bad ones. All the books in the series are incredible and they have humor scattered throughout them as well, although not all the kids will understand it. The books are a must buy as they are not boring yet make sense and are a lot of fun to read.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Kid, 11 years old August 26, 2010
AGE
8
QUALITY
 

This is Amazing!

This series is amazing!!! I love all the books and I've read all of them too! Once you start reading one of these books you can't stop. All of my friends have read this series and they have all come to me and have said that they loved it. I recommend this book!
Kid, 10 years old November 6, 2009
AGE
10
QUALITY
 

Something a little Weird

I dont like the book that much because it doesnt have a good beginning. Its not well thought out. Especially for the orphans. I cant believe the author would make such a sad book. Nah,if you are going to read it Dont!
What other families should know
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great role models
Teen, 15 years old Written byarthur16morgana January 14, 2011
AGE
10
QUALITY
 

good book

love the series. a series everyone can read. read all the book in 6th grade. i didnt find the books nor the movie to be scary or even extremely violent
What other families should know
Great role models

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