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October 30, 2002


Boing Boing | Ninth Lemony Snicket book out, and rocks

The series tells the stories of three orphans ("the Baudelaire orphans") who are dredged through one misery after another, continually jumping from frying pans into ever-hotter fires. There's a bunch of Roald Dahl in this mix, and some Clement Freud, and Kelly Link, and some Daniel Pinkwater. If you haven't turned the wee ones in your life onto these books yet, you're doing them a disservice.

Christy's reading these to Sophie. They've just started book 5, The Austere Academy. I haven't read any of them, but they sure are fun to listen to, absurdly dour and written without condescension. The author uses a clever construction with words that may be beyond some readers' vocabulary -- he defines the term humorously in the narrative, like this, from Sunny, the Baudelaire orphan too young to talk (she would rather bite things):

"Aregg?" Sunny asked incredulously. "Incredulously" is a word which here means "not being able to believe it," and "Aregg" is a word which here means "What? I can't believe it."

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I need to take a look at these but I'm suspicious they're just another attempt to make "edgy" kids books that adults will think are good for their kids but may not be. The trend toward kids not being allowed to be "just kids" bothers me a great deal. They only have one chance to see things for the first time, to experience a sense of wonder, and I'd rather they didn't waste it. The Disappearance of Childhood is a great book on the emergence of children as a protected class and how that's crumbling under the assault of today's mass media.

Posted by: paul the childrens' lit curmudgeon at Oct 30, 2002 9:54:05 PM

I respect your opinion on this, but I don't think it's warranted in the case of the Lemony Snicket books. They're less edgy than retro, and belong to the long tradition of children's books about kids who survive on their wits without their parents, from Theodore Taylor's The Cay and Escape to Witch Mountain back to Huck Finn and Great Expectations.

Just to even out the argument, I haven't read the book you've cited either :-). I'm perhaps one up because I also haven't read the books I'm citing.

I'm always nervous when anybody uses the "What about the children?" defense. My parents took that tack, and sheltered me from a lot of things I would have been better off knowing about, from the cliched "the dog went to live in the country" to an institutionalized grandparent who was just never mentioned until I was in college, I think, and she was dead. It wouldn't have been easy to deal with those things, but damn, that's what being a parent is all about.

"Childhood as a protected class" is a good idea, but not nearly so good as "childhood as a nurtured class." You can't protect children forever, and efforts might be better spent on education and preparation than protection.

Posted by: Frank at Oct 31, 2002 1:21:14 AM

The taped versions of the Lemony Snicket books are good as well. They're narrated by Tim Curry, who does an excellent job with all the character's voices.

Another series I stumbled upon is Patrick Pullman's trilogy starting with "The Golden Compass." It's a bit more fantasy, with a lot of inferences to a somewhat similar but different world. The story takes place in "Anglia" (England) and everyone has a demon (not a bad thing in Pullman's world), and it has a feel of the 60's view of the 1980's future if you mixed in equal parts of the spirit world with the scientific realm.

Children's books seem to be really good things to listen to on long driving trips for some reason.

Posted by: Howard Fore at Oct 31, 2002 10:14:49 AM

I think the fact you've not read the books you or I cite puts you two down, not one up ;-)

I don't have a problem with books that show kids solving problems without adult assistance: the "Swallows and Amazons" series has a lot of that and it's very well done.

When I refer to a protected class, it helps to understand what came before, The world before children were seen as anything other than small adults had them working alongside adults, sleeping alongside them, eating and drinking alongside them: there was no difference. With the emergence of literacy, the ability to read became a mark of maturity (what would you teach in schools if not that?) and with that came the need for schools and an awareness of things that were for children and things that were not.

Modern media, TV, music, et al, undermine that difference and the protections it affords. Kids are driven to learn and grow -- that's their job -- so it's my responsibility to make sure they grow up right. If that means they don't get to read the same books their friends are having read to them or playing the same games, so be it.

I think parents hiding facts of life from their kids versus keeping their minds clear of disturbing fictional material are two different things. I'm still of the mind that a lot -- not all -- of the new kids books are simple products of demand creation (something the adults will buy) rather than specifically for kids.

When I think of kids books, I think of two kinds: the kind you read to them -- this means they're not reading and are therefore young -- and the kind they can read themselves without struggling with the language or the material. So I'm not letting Harry Potter out of the cupboard under the stairs just yet. Mary Poppins -- did you know there were 6 of those? -- and Freddy the Pig will serve us quite well.

I'm always amazed at the parents who will buy the Potter books w/o having read even one of them. Let's recap, shall we?

Infant boy wizard sees parents *destroyed*, not just killed, by evil wizard. Infant then grows up in Dickensian straits with aunt and uncle, but has his identity revealed to him as he studies magic at school for wizards where each year the same evil wizard tries to destroy him as he did the boy's parents.

Sweet dreams . . . . . . I've already seen some kids having nightmares from these. I know not all kids are the same and respond differently: that's why I'm keeping these out of circulation for now.

I think we're going to agree to disagree on this one.

Posted by: paul the unrepentant critic at Oct 31, 2002 1:10:02 PM