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The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Last updated Friday, October 2, 2009

Author: Lemony Snicket
Illustrator: Brett Helquist
Date of Publication: 1999
ISBN: 006075589X
Grade Level: 4th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Oct. 2009

Synopsis: Make no mistake. The Bad Beginning begins badly for the three Baudelaire children, and then gets worse. Their misfortunes begin one gray day on Briny Beach when Mr. Poe tells them that their parents perished in a fire that destroyed their whole house. "It is useless for me to describe to you how terrible Violet, Klaus, and even Sunny felt in the time that followed," laments the personable (occasionally pedantic) narrator, who tells the story as if his readers are gathered around an armchair on pillows. But of course what follows is dreadful. The children thought it was bad when the well-meaning Poes bought them grotesque-colored clothing that itched. But when they are ushered to the dilapidated doorstep of the miserable, thin, unshaven, shiny-eyed, money-grubbing Count Olaf, they know that they--and their family fortune--are in real trouble. Still, they could never have anticipated how much trouble. While it's true that the events that unfold in Lemony Snicket's novels are bleak, and things never turn out as you'd hope, these delightful, funny, linguistically playful books are reminiscent of Roald Dahl (remember James and the Giant Peach and his horrid spinster aunts), Charles Dickens (the orphaned Pip in Great Expectations without the mysterious benefactor), and Edward Gorey (The Gashlycrumb Tinies). There is no question that young readers will want to read the continuing unlucky adventures of the Baudelaire children in The Reptile Room and The Wide Window. From Amazon.com

Note to readers:
•  Vocabulary: Knack; perish; glumly; solemnly; enormous

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Do you like books with happy endings or scary, dark endings?
•  This book was made into a movie. Have you seen it?
•  Does this look like a scary book or a happy ending book?
•  Is an unfortunate event a “good thing” or “bad thing”? Answer—can be both

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Do you think the fire was an accident or was it set on purpose? Who would you stay with if your house was destroyed in a fire?
•  Can the children take care of themselves without their parents? How do books help them learn? What different things can you learn from books?
•  Is this a scary book or a mystery book?

Craft ideas:
•  The book is unpredictable. Since you will not be able to finish the book (the students can check it out in their school library to finish), have them draw a picture of their “unpredictable” ending. After they finish reading the book, they can see if their ending matches the authors! Remind the kids that the children grew up in a mansion with a giant library of books.
•  Make your personal “book plate”. Show them the beginning of the book with the book plate printed in the book. Take one sheet of paper (white or construction) and divide it into at least 8 book plates. Fold in half-short sides together; fold in half again, short sides together; fold again so you have a rectangle. Open up the paper and cut along the folds. Each book plate can be a different design but each should have “Ex Libris” which is Latin for “From the library of” and a line for the name of the child.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!