Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Reader's Diary #446- Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Bad Beginning

Last August I learned the importance of checking those picture books a little more carefully before checking them out of the library and taking them home to my kids. Fine lesson to learn I suppose, but what about chapter books? Should I stay there for six hours, meticulously scanning over every page?

I guess all this implies that I had reservations about The Bad Beginning, book the first of the Series of Unfortunate Events. I admit that certain scenes were uncomfortable to read to my five year old, especially when Count Olaf strikes Klaus across the face, causing a bruise that lasts the whole week following. However, we ended up having a lot of great talks. After the particularly abusive episode reference above, the Baudelaire orphans went to Mr. Poe, one of the few other adults in their life, and told him what happened, requesting his help. Mr. Poe coughed during the part about the physical abuse and the children were never quite sure if he'd heard them or not. In any case, Poe didn't come to their rescue. At this point we talked about the importance of getting help. Lesson? If you're in trouble and need an adult's help, keep trying every adult you can until someone pulls through. Me and my daughter were both frustrated that they didn't repeat themselves or go to another adult. It's unfortunate that children sometimes need to be their own advocates, but that may be the only way they end up getting help.

An important lesson to learn, but would I have tackled a book that featured physical abuse with my five year old had I known about it ahead of time? Probably not. In Snicket's defense, I was given as much warning as possible without having all the details spilled out ahead of time. On the back cover, he writes, "there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing." With such a tone, I expected it to be a dark comedy for kids. And it was a dark comedy for kids, just darker than I'd expected. But I don't regret reading it. A little discomfort can be a good thing. I trod lightly, reading just a chapter a night to make sure we'd have time to talk about those weightier issues and to cut it short should she start having Count Olaf nightmares. She didn't.

We both enjoyed the book immensely. I especially enjoyed the tone (very Edward Gorey) and the way he introduced definitions:
...their parents gave them permission to ride a rickety trolley-- the word, "rickety," you probably know, here means "unsteady" or "likely to collapse"-- alone to the seashore...
My daughter was drawn to Sunny Baudelaire, the gibberish talking baby with an over enthusiastic biting habit.

We're looking forward to the next in the series.


claire said...

Looved this series.. I'm looking forward to sharing it with my kids in a couple of years or so (they're 8 and 6 now).. :)

John Mutford said...

Claire: Mine's 5. Maybe, like you, I should have put it off a few years. The thing is, she's been a full-out reader since about 3 and has recently gotten into chapter books. It's a little difficult, though not impossible, to find ones appropriate for a five year old. Like I say, she handled this one fine, but it was iffy.

Nikki in Niagara said...

My 8yo enjoyed the books. I love the penny-dreadful type of atmosphere. We've only read the first 3 so far though.

So, I should have kept your email message the other day because I can't find your email on your blog anywhere. But I wanted to let you know your parcel arrived yesterday and I was absolutely stunned and thrilled! You are so dear and kind to think of me.

I don't often get gifts out of the blue like that and was very delighted to open your package and see those books. With the one I have that now makes the first four in the set. Thanks ever so much!

claire said...

John.. your daughter sounds amazing! My 8-y.o. isn't that much into reading, even though we've been reading picture books since he was a baby. He prefers to browse pictures. My 6-y.o. is the bookworm like me.. he's the one who asks to read another chapter and another, long after his older brother wants to stop. We've only just started reading chapter books.. in fact, we're on our first chapter book ever (The Tale of Despereaux, which I did read before). I know it's been long coming.. but it's funny 'cause we haven't graduated from picture books even now.. we still read them alternately with the chapter book haha. What others have you read with your daughter?

Anonymous said...

May I recommend Edward Eager's books, including HALF MAGIC? They are old-fashioned in a good way, very funny, and usually feature sibling groups with a toddler or baby. We've done them as read-alouds.

I read the first Snickets only (and liked it, just didn't feel compelled to continue); my oldest went on to read most but not all (at maybe age 9 or 10?).

Shelley said...

I love the humor in this series. I read one every once in a while, and am on the eighth one I think.
I agree with Jenniferknoblock--Edward Eager's books are great! They are good read alouds.

John Mutford said...

Nicola: I'm just glad I still had your address from when you won the monthly draw in the Canadian Book Challenge.

Claire: Thanks! My son, who's a little younger, while still interested in books, probably has a more "normal" appreciation for his age than his sister did. What other chapter books have we read together? The Mouse and The Motorcycle, Charlotte's Web, Through The Looking Glass, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Bunnicula to name a few.

Jenniferknoblock: Thank-you so much for the recommendation!

Shelley: I find the tone so amusing. We'll definitely continue.

Allison said...

The best books read to me as a child where the ones that elicited talks with my parents (much like film). And one of the things I remember most.

Wanda said...

Haven't read this series but I did like the movie! My 18yo read the first few back when she was in grade 4 or 5 and remembers enjoying them.

My 8yo really enjoyed the Ramona series a few years ago when she first got into chapter books. The Canadian Flyer Adventures are a great alternative to The Magic Tree House series if/when your daughter is reading on her own...