Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Bad Beginning (Book)

Author: Lemony Snicket. Illustrator: Brett Helquist. Release date: 1999. Publisher:  HarperCollins. ISBN: 9780064407667.
Plot summary: True to it’s title, The Bad Beginning chronicles the very unfortunate circumstances that cause fourteen-year-old Violet, twelve-year-old Klaus and infant Sunny Baudelaire to be orphaned. After their parents are killed in a fire, the children are sent to live with their distant cousin, Count Olaf, a professional actor. Soon the children learn that Olaf is a cruel man who is only after what he assumes is a very large inheritance following the death of their parents. Olaf treats the Baudelaire children like slaves, and only their kind neighbor, Judge Strauss, makes their lives bearable. When Olaf asks the children to participate in an upcoming stage performance called “The Marvelous Marriage,” they begin to wonder if it is simply a trick to get Violet to actually marry him, thus inheriting the money. Can the Baudelaire children figure out a way to outsmart Olaf?
Review:  Lemony Snicket’s now prolific Series of Unfortunate Events books begin with this dark but fun novel. From the start, it is clear that Snicket’s writing style is quirky. He warns the reader that they will not enjoy the story and that it is full of sadness. These tricks, however, only serve to entice the reader to continue, making this title ideal for reluctant tween readers who might need a little “shove” to dive into a chapter book. The story of the orphaned children who are forced to live with a mean relative isn’t new, but Snicket’s dark humor makes The Bad Beginning unique. The adults the Baudelaire children encounter seem to be either sinister or incompetent with the exception of the kind Judge Strauss. The end of the novel leaves the story wide open for all of the sequels that follow, and tweens will certainly want to pick up the next title after they finish this one.
Genre: Fiction
Reading level: Grades 4-7
Similar titles: Other titles by Lemony Snicket, James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.
Personal thoughts: I have always been a big fan of this series mainly because I know that it gets checked out and read quite frequently by tweens at my library. I have also been curious about what it is about the books that entice children to keep picking up the books, so I was delighted to experience the first story. I found it very entertaining and clever, and completely understand its popularity. I commend Lemony Snicket for creating something that can be enjoyed by reluctant readers.
Themes:  Orphans, tragedy, sinister plots, dark humor.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews.
Series Information: Book one in the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket.
Character information:
Violet Baudelaire – Fourteen-years-old and oldest of the Baudelaire orphans. She is smart and an inventor, but struggles while living with her evil cousin, Count Olaf.
Klaus Baudelaire – Twelve-year-old middle child of the Baudelaire children. He’s also smart and a bit of a bookworm.
Sunny Baudelaire – Infant and youngest of the Baudelaire children. She has very sharp teeth and can perform many tasks that are unusual for a baby.
Count Olaf – Distant cousin to the Baudelaire children and professional actor. He is a very cruel man who is intent on getting a hold of the Baudelaire inheritance.
Judge Strauss – Kind neighbor of Count Olaf who helps the Baudelaire children.
Annotation:  After their parents are killed in a fire, the three Baudelaire children must try to survive at the hands of their distant cousin, and new cousin, the evil Count Olaf.

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