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Book Review

This review was created by the editorial staff at Thriving Family magazine

This adventure, or what some refer to as a dark comedy, is the first book in "A Series of Unfortunate Events" by Lemony Snicket and is published by HarperEntertainment, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The Bad Beginning is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

When the parents of Violet (14), Klaus (12) and baby Sunny Baudelaire die in a house fire, Mr. Poe, the will executor, places them with a distant relative named Count Olaf. Olaf is an evil actor who intends to steal the Baudelaire orphans' fortune. He gives the children unreasonable chores, threatens their lives and makes them share one small bed. The children experience small pockets of joy by spending time with neighbor Justice Strauss (a judge) and perusing her vast library.

Olaf discovers that he can legally obtain Violet's fortune by making her his wife. He disguises his plan by telling the children and Justice Strauss that they'll all be performing in a play called "The Marvelous Marriage." Violet and Klaus read up on inheritance law in Justice Strauss' library and figure out Olaf's scheme. When they confront the count, Olaf puts Sunny in a birdcage suspended high in the air and threatens to drop her if Violet and Klaus don't cooperate.

After the wedding scene in Olaf's play, the count stops the performance and announces that the marriage is legal. Poe, Justice Strauss and other audience members are shocked but recognize that Olaf's actions are official and binding. Violet then announces she hasn't signed the marriage document "in her own hand" as the law requires, but that she's used her left hand. Justice Strauss rules the loophole valid, and Poe assures the children he'll place them with someone else. But when the theater lights suddenly go out, Olaf and his henchmen escape, promising to return to claim the money and kill the kids.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The author blames the children's many woes on the fact that they are extremely unlucky.

Authority Roles

The Baudelaire kids fondly remember their parents for letting them participate in adult dinner parties. The demanding, short-tempered and bad-smelling Count Olaf drinks a lot of wine and keeps company with a motley bunch of actors, who share his interest in the Baudelaire fortune. Olaf strikes Klaus across the face and puts Sunny in a birdcage suspended from a 30-foot tower. Mr. Poe fulfills his obligations as executor of the will but fails to give the children his attention when they come to tell him about Olaf's abuse. Justice Strauss shows kindness and affection to the kids, though she is blind to the problems they're encountering under Olaf's guardianship. She offers to adopt them in the end, but Poe won't allow it because the will specifies they live with a family member.


Though Olaf and his men do cruel things to the children, the text excludes graphic depictions of the events.


Violet briefly cringes over the idea of having to sleep next to Olaf when they're married, but nothing more is mentioned.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • As one of the Baudelaire kids, would you have relied on any of the adults in the story?
  • Why or why not?
  • Why is it important to have trustworthy adults in your life?
  • Which grown-ups in your world could you talk to if you had a problem?

  • Why do you think the children's friends had stopped writing or visiting the kids after their parents' deaths?

  • Have you ever had a friend who lost a loved one or was going through a tough time?
  • How hard was it to find the right thing to say to him or her?
  • What are some things you can do to help struggling friends, instead of avoiding them?

  • Why did Klaus think he could solve any problem if he read enough books?

  • How did Klaus' and Violet's love of reading and knowledge help them in this book?
  • Are the solutions to all of life's problems found in books? Explain your answer.
  • Who is the ultimate source of answers when you are struggling?

  • Why did Violet feel responsible for Klaus and Sunny?

  • Do you ever feel like it is your job to look after your siblings? Why or why not?

  • Why did Count Olaf do such evil things to the Baudelaire kids?

  • What did he want more than anything else?
  • Have you ever known anyone who let greed rule his or her life?
  • What was the person like?
  • What dangers do we face when we put all of our energy into getting money or other material items?

Additional Comments/Notes

Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 and up


Lemony Snicket






Record Label



HarperEntertainment, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


On Video

Year Published



This book won multiple state-level awards in 2003; other books in this series have won national awards


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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