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Children's Literature Reviews
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The bad beginning
by Lemony Snicket ; illustrations by Brett Helquist.
Publisher description
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.
162 p. ill. 19 cm.


After the sudden death of their parents, the three Baudelaire children must depend on each other and their wits when it turns out that the distant relative who is appointed their guardian is determined to use any means necessary to get their fortune.

Best Books:

Best of Book Sense From the First Five Years, 1999-2004 ; Book Sense; United States
Children's Book Sense 76 Picks, Spring/Summer 2001 ; Book Sense 76; United States
Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Children's Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, 1999 ; United States
Not Just for Children Anymore!, 2000 ; Children's Book Council; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, September 1999 ; Cahners; United States

Awards, Honors, Prizes:

American Booksellers Book Sense Book of the Year (ABBY) Award, 2001 Finalist Children United States
Colorado Children's Book Award, 2003 Winner Junior Novel Colorado
Cuffies: Children's Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2000 Winner Favorite Series United States
Nene Award, 2003 Winner Grades 4-6 Hawaii
Nevada Young Readers' Award, 2003 Winner Young Reader Nevada

State and Provincial Reading Lists:

Colorado Children's Book Award, 2003 ; Nominee; Colorado
Garden State Children's Book Award, 2002 ; Nominee; Fiction; New Jersey
Golden Archer Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; Intermediate; Wisconsin
Nevada Young Readers' Award, 2003 ; Nominee; Young Reader; Nevada
Soaring Eagle Book Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; Wyoming
West Australian Young Readers' Book Award (WAYRBA), 2002 ; Nominee; Younger Reader; Australia
Wisconsin Battle of the Books, 2013-2014 ; Elementary; Wisconsin

Reading Measurement Programs:

Accelerated Reader
Interest Level Middle Grade
Book Level 6.4
Accelerated Reader Points 4
Accelerated Vocabulary

Lexile, MetaMetrics, Inc.
Lexile Measure 1010

Reading Counts-Scholastic
Interest Level 6-8
Reading Level 6
Title Point Value 7
Lexile Measure 1010


Nancy (BookHive (
You may have read about orphans in the Boxcar Children series, The Secret Garden, or the Harry Potter books, but the adventures of the three Baudelaire children are unforgettable. Is it because the parents of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny died in a fire? Or is it because Count Olaf is after the family fortune? Or is it because Sunny is trapped in a birdcage? It’s true these events are unfortunate and even scary, but told with a cleverness that keeps this series delightful and fun. As the author warns the reader, “ A Series of Unfortunate Events” is not for everyone...especially if you prefer something happy. Category: Adventure; Humor; Read Aloud; Scary. Grade Level: Intermediate (4th-6th grade). 1999, HarperCollins. Ages 9 to 12.

Susan Dove Lempke (Booklist, December 1, 1999 (Vol. 96, No. 7))
This is a multi-book review. See also the title The Reptile Room. Alas, the poor Beaudelaire children! Violet, Klaus, and baby sister Sunny suffer all sorts of misfortunes, beginning when their parents die in a fire and they become wards of a distant cousin, evil Count Olaf. Author "Lemony Snicket" (a pseudonym, perhaps?) points out in an opening note, "It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing," and then proceeds to recount the story with relish aplenty. In The Reptile Room, it momentarily seems like the children might have a chance for happiness when they go to live with a kind reptile expert. Needless to say, Count Olaf makes certain their happiness doesn't last. The droll humor, reminiscent of Edwin Gorey's, will be lost on some children; others may not enjoy the old-fashioned storytelling style that frequently addresses the reader directly and includes many definitions of terms. But plenty of children will laugh at the over-the-top satire; hiss at the creepy, nefarious villains; and root for the intelligent, courageous, unfortunate Beaudelaire orphans. Category: Middle Readers. 1999, HarperCollins/Trophy, $8.95. Gr. 4-7.

Kathleen Karr (Children's Literature)
The first offering of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" presents us with the very unfortunate, and very Dickensian Baudelaire children: Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny. After learning that their wealthy parents have perished in a fire which also destroyed their home, the trio is shipped off to reside with Count Olaf. A very distant relative, Olaf has his own agenda: gaining the Baudelaire's fortune by forcing a marriage with fourteen-year-old Violet. How the orphans squelch Olaf's plans is the meat of this tongue-in-cheek spoof. 1999, HarperTrophy, $14.89 and $8.95. Ages 9 up.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1999)
The Baudelaire children--Violet, 14, Klans, 12, and baby Sunny--are exceedingly ill-fated; Snicket extracts both humor and horror from their situation, as he gleefully puts them through one terrible ordeal after another. After receiving the news that their parents died in a fire, the three hapless orphans are delivered into the care of Count Olaf, who "is either a third cousin four times removed, or a fourth cousin three times removed." The villainous Count Olaf is morally depraved and generally mean, and only takes in the downtrodden yet valiant children so that he can figure out a way to separate them from their considerable inheritance. The youngsters are able to escape his clutches at the end, but since this is the first installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events, there will be more ghastly doings. Written with old-fashioned flair, this fast-paced book is not for the squeamish: the Baudelaire children are truly sympathetic characters who encounter a multitude of distressing situations. Those who enjoy a little poison in their porridge will find it wicked good fun. B&w Illustrations, Not Seen. 1999, HarperCollins, $8.95. Starred Review. © 1999 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. So cautions Snicket, the exceedingly well-mannered narrator of these two witty mock-gothic novels featuring the misadventures of 14-year-old Violet, 12-year-old Klaus and infant Sunny Baudelaire. From the first, things look unfortunate indeed for the trio: a fire destroys their home, killing their parents along with it; the executor of their parents' estate, the obtuse Mr. Poe (with a son, Edgar), ignores whatever the children have to say; and their new guardian, Count Olaf, is determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. But by using their individual gifts (Violet's for inventing, Klaus's for reading and researching and baby Sunny's for biting) the three enterprising children thwart the Count's plan--for now. The author uses formal, Latinate language and intrusive commentary to hilarious effect, even for readers unfamiliar with the literary conventions he parodies. The peril in which he places the Baudelaires may be frightening (Count Olaf actually follows through on his threats of violence on several occasions), but the author paints the satire with such broad strokes that most readers will view it from a safe distance. Luckily for fans, the woes of the Baudelaires are far from over; readers eager for more misfortune can turn to The Reptile Room, for an even more suspenseful tale. Exquisitely detailed drawings of Gothic gargoyles and mischievous eyes echo the contents of this elegantly designed hardcover. Age 9-up. (Sept.)

Janice M. Del Negro (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September 1999 (Vol. 53, No. 1))
These Aikenish takeoffs on unfortunate orphan novels promise a fast and funny series, and they very nearly deliver. In The Bad Beginning, the three Baudelaire children, Violet (age fourteen), Klaus (age twelve), and Sunny (a baby), are orphaned when the family manse burns down. They are given over to the care of Count Olaf, their wicked cousin. The count is a no-account villain, who proceeds to make their life a misery, conspiring to marry Violet in order to gain control of the family fortune. Violet foils the plot, the evil Olaf escapes, and the three children are taken in by the somewhat dense Mr. Poe, executor of their parents’ estate. The Reptile Room continues the saga of the siblings, opening with their being transported to the home of yet another distant cousin, herpetologist Dr. Montgomery, aka Uncle Monty. Uncle Monty is a jolly fellow, but unfortunately not for long--the evil Count Olaf shows up and makes short work of the orphans’ guardian. Olaf plans to kidnap them (and gain control of their fortune), and he nearly succeeds but is foiled (and escapes) once again. Snicket has a way of speaking directly to the reader (“I wish I could tell you that the Baudelaires’ first impressions of Count Olaf and his house were incorrect, as first impressions so often are. But these impressions--that Count Olaf was a horrible person and his house a depressing pigsty--were absolutely correct”) and of defining words in the context of dialogue that is, taken in large doses, irritatingly precious. The author does have the traditions of the genre down, however, and the lively misfortunes of the Baudelaires have a careening momentum that is well-served by the humorous if occasionally self-conscious text. The Baudelaire children have personality and tenacity, and their devotion to one another will hold readers when the mannered text does not. (Reviewed from galleys) Review Code: Ad -- Additional book of acceptable quality for collections needing more material in the area. (c) Copyright 1999, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 1999, HarperCollins, 192p, $14.89 and $8.95. Grades 4-8.

Marsha Harper (The Lorgnette - Heart of Texas Reviews (Vol. 12, No. 3))
It's a bit hard to picture the kind of child who will enjoy this book. It will have to be a bright child: one who reads a lot, has a good imagination, and likes outlandish plots. It will also have to be one who enjoys the humor of didactic, often lengthy asides to the reader. The reader will likely either love Lemony or hate him. Here Snicket tells the story of the three wealthy Baudelaire orphans--Violet (14) the inventor, Klaus (12) the bookworm, and Sunny, an infant with very sharp teeth. After their parents' deaths, they are forced to live with Count Olaf, a distant cousin who is interested only in getting rid of them for their money. The three have to use their wits just to survive. This they do and also triumph over the vile Olaf. But is he really vanquished? Not at all; he and his detestable gang will no doubt show up in the second book. The author spins an exciting, suspenseful story with memorable characters, all in deadpan prose which adds to the fun--for the right reader. (Series of Unfortunate Events) Fiction. Grades 5-8. 1999, HarperCollins, 162p, $14.89. Ages 10 to 14.


A series of unfortunate events ; bk. 1


Orphans Fiction.
Brothers and sisters Fiction.
Humorous stories.
LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng) PZ7.S6795 Bad 1999
99014750 [Fic]
0060283122 (lib. bdg.)
0064407667 (pbk.)
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