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

Book review by
Peter Lewis, Common Sense Media
The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
A cliff-hanging orphan adventure wrapped in black humor.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 15 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 79 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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.


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.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byvillebilly February 9, 2016

Mystery, adventure, and humor are all here

First off, this book is a bit dark, maybe too much so for younger readers in that it deals with the death of the family's parents right off the bat. It co... Continue reading
Adult Written byTiasmom December 25, 2016

LEMONY SNCKET IS A GENIUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think it's creepy how Olaf tried to marry Violet, who is only 14. I'll tell you a little bit about Violet, Klaus and Sunny. Violet Baudelaire, the... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bydaissy98 October 17, 2019

read this review!!

if you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would rather be off reading some other kind of book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending,... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byDojopink May 27, 2016


I think this is amazing, very detailed with lots of vocabulary and Has a great amount of illustrations by Brett helquist. Lemony snicket aka Daniel handler IS A... Continue reading

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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love danger

Themes & Topics

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