A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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 & Scariness
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.
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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).
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.