Thursday, June 26, 2008


I tried reading the first Harry Potter book a few years ago, and didn't take to it. The other recent series to be aimed at kids but embraced by a wider audience is this one, A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by Lemony Snicket. I found a copy of THE REPTILE ROOM, the second book in the series, abandoned with a box of books on a street corner near my house, and took it home. Yesterday I cracked it open at work, and two hours later I was finished. All in all I liked it, and I'll probably read others if they find their way into my hands, but I'm not really planning on hunting them down.

Still, I'm interested by this whole adults-reading-kids-books phenomena, and I had that in mind while I read it. It's been years since I've read another book aimed at kids. What is it that makes them catch on with older readers? What is it about kid's books that sets them apart from adult fare? I'm not sure if I know everything that defines or typifies a kid's book, but I noticed the following in THE REPTILE ROOM:

Simple Characters and a simple plot: The principle characters in this series seem to be the three Baudelaire children, their banker Mr. Poe, and their nemesis Count Olaf. Each of these characters is identifiable by just a few key things: the oldest kid is a girl who likes to invent and ties her hair up with a ribbon when doing so; the middle child is a boy who wears glasses and likes to read; the youngest is a baby with four sharp teeth, who likes to bite things and participates in conversations by spouting gibberish. That's pretty much all there is to them, and the plot is designed in a way that continually touches on and reinforces these basic traits.

Narrator who is a character: The aforementioned Lemony Snicket, who tells the story, also interacts directly with the reader. Usually, this interaction consists of warning the reader about the depressing nature of the book, and recommending that the reader put the book down and not read it at all. His narration generally borders on conversational, and he segues away from the plot here and there to explain a word or phrase, or describe a related-but-uninvolved situation. The narrator also speaks in a rather prim, archaic tone which brings to mind the narrators from Victorian novels by authors like Charles Dickens.

Repetition: Much of what happens, and much of the way those happenings are described, follows patterns that repeat throughout the book. Usually this repetition is focused on things that don't hold overriding importance to the plot, but rather affect the mood and feel of the story. For example, the three children often discuss what's happening and what they should do about it, and the baby always participates in these discussions by blurting a single multi-syllable word of gibberish, which the narrator interprets for the reader (example: "'Meeka!' Sunny said, which probably meant...").

There's more to note, but I'm clocking out from work now, so I'll end this post here.

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