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    If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no
    happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle. This is because not very many happy things
    happened in the lives of the three Baudelaire youngsters. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire were intelligent children, and they were
    charming and resourceful, and had pleasant facial features, but they were extremely unlucky, and most everything that happened to them
    was rife with misfortune, misery and despair. I'm sorry to tell you this, but that's how the story goes.

Thus begins Book 1, A Bad Beginning, of Lemony Snicket's immensely popular series of dour children's books, A Series of Unfortunate Events.   Of course, I only know that because I found an excerpt on-line.  The rotten little kids in our town have had every installment in the series checked out of our library every day for the past year.  But the other day when the K-Mart one-hour photolab took about four hours, I picked up and read enough of volume 8, The Hostile Hospital, that I more-or-less had to buy it.  So now I see why they're so popular.

You'll often see Lemony Snicket compared to Roald Dahl or Edward Gorey because the books have such an edge of dark humor to them.  But more than anything, they are reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth or the works of Lewis Carroll, for the author's great love and witty use of language.  Many of the in-jokes will go over the heads of children, but serve to make the books more appealing to adults--for instance, the children's names : Klaus and Sunny (as in von Bulow).  But the central theme of the book is that it is the children's skills and learning that will enable them to escape from dire predicaments :

    When you read as many books as Klaus Baudelaire, you are going to learn a great deal of information that might not be useful
    for a long time.  You might read a book that would teach you about the exploration of outer space, even if you do not become
    an astronaut until you are eighty years old.  You might read a book about how to perform tricks on ice skates, and then not be
    forced to perform these tricks for a few weeks.  You might read a book on how to have a successful marriage, when the only
    woman you will ever love has married someone else and then perished one terrible afternoon.  But although Klaus had read books
    on outer-space exploration, ice-skating tricks, and good marriage methods, and not yet found much use for this information,
    he had learned a great deal of information that was about to become very useful indeed.

It's become commonplace to say that JK Rowling has gotten kids to read again, but the Lemony Snicket books go one step farther and encourage kids to read, to learn, to expand their vocabularies, to value knowledge and use it to solve problems.

Add to this the fact that the books are packaged beautifully--they even feel good in your hands--with excellent illustrations by Brett Helquist, and you've got a series that belongs on every kid's bookshelf.  Although, if the local library's any indicator, they'll never actually be there when you are looking for them.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Children's Books
Book-related and General Links:
    -AUTHOR SITE : Lemony Snicket
    -BOOK SITE : A Series... (Harper Collins)
    -INTERVIEW : Dark star : children's writer Lemony Snicket (Helena Echlin, August 21, 2002, The Guardian)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : with Daniel Handler (Fresh Air, 12/10/01)
    -INTERVIEW : with Lemony Snicket (Nancy Matson, March, 2000)
    -INTERVIEW : Interview with the elusive Lemony Snicket (Todd Alexander , Dymocks)
    -INTERVIEW : Lemony Snicket moves in on Harry Potter market (7:30 Report, 11/07/01)
    -PROFILE : The Mysterious Mr. Snicket : He's been compared to Edward Gorey and Roald Dahl, but to know the
true identity of the author behind the bestselling children's series, you must read this story. (Amy Benfer, Aug. 17, 2000, Salon)
    -PROFILE : Children don't snicker at Snicket (Deirdre Donahue, 12/06/2001, USA TODAY)
    -PROFILE : DELICIOUSLY DISMAL (PAMELA WALLIN , March 5th, 2001, Globe Books)
    -A Series of Unfortunate Events (KidsReads)
    -ESSAY : When Bad Things Happen to Good Children : Why are so many kids in the mood for Lemony Snicket's wretched orphans instead of Harry Potter? (MAUREEN DOWD, 12/30/01, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : In Troubled Times, Kids Go for the Feary Tales  (Sandra G. Boodman, Washington Post, December 3, 2001)
    -ESSAY :  Books for bad children : Bring on the ghosts, the ghouls and the unhappy endings (Polly Shulman, 10/27/99, Salon)
    -ARCHIVES : "lemony snicket" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW : of The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events) by Lemony Snicket (Nancy Matson)
    -REVIEW : of The Bad Beginning (Julia Durango)
    -REVIEW : of The Bad Beginning (Sarah Harrington , Book Trusted)
    -REVIEW : of The Bad Beginning (Angela Mott)
    -REVIEW : of The Bad Beginning (Sam North,
    -REVIEW : of An Unfortunate Series... (Kate Kellaway, July 22, 2001, The Observer)
    -REVIEW : of The Austere Academy  By Lemony Snicket (Gregory Maguire, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Austere Academy (JAMIE WHITFIELD, Book Page)
    -REVIEW : of The Austere Academy (Jena Schmitt, Today's Parent)
    -REVIEW : of The Vile Village (CALDWELL AKERS, Book Page)