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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
A cliff-hanging orphan adventure wrapped in black humor.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 13 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 66 reviews

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
Parent of a 8 year old Written bywaterlilies September 22, 2010

Darkly Humorous, not for the little ones

We're up to the third book now, but I thought I'd post for those considering starting the series. I have a real affection for these books, as well as... Continue reading
Adult Written byCrazy Chel April 9, 2008

I was almost too depressed to finish.

While the creative and descriptive language would help any youth expand their vocab, sometimes it was a bit too much. The constant sence of tragedy, sadness an... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old August 26, 2010

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 frie... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byarthur16morgana January 14, 2011

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'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

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