It's only review #2 and I'm already taking a sidetrack from my intention of sharing holiday favorites. I just learned that the book, The Bad Beginning, the first book in "The Series of Unfortunate Events," is available free for download at http://www.lemonysnicket.com/
This was a series that I had seen in our local library and I admit to having had my suspicions about whether it was worth reading. When someone I respect, however, gives a book their thumbs up, then I'm usually more willing to give it a try. So when I saw the series listed in Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn's book, Hand That Rocks the Cradle, (a marvelous resource, by the way, of suggestions on books to read as a family) I decided to read it to my older children who were 13, 10 and 8 at the time. I'm glad that I chose to do it as a read aloud for several reasons. First of all, the vocabulary is rather advanced. With the first book, we started a vocabulary list but, alas, the list became so long, we abandoned the effort. (I'd still like to try that project again when I read it to our younger children). The fun part was that the definitions were often humorously given as an aside to the reader so one isn't always scrambling off to find a dictionary.
The second reason I'm glad I read it aloud was because the themes were rather grim which ironically was part of the humour in the book. If your kids ever feel like they have had a bad day now and then, it cannot compare to the experience of the Baudelaire children! I admit that I personally enjoyed the sarcasm and witty narrative throughout the book (which admittedly, may not be to everyone's taste). What was refreshing was how the children faced every situation with courage, and total commitment to one another. Petty arguments or irritations quickly were forgotten as they learned to work together. This series is really one of the most beautiful depictions of sibling loyalty and love.
Another reason I'm glad that I read this out loud was because there were maybe 2 times that there was a swear word (very mild; I just skipped over those instances). In our own personal copies, we just white those out.
Finally, I'm glad we read this as a family because the experience was so memorable. The suspense, clever elements, twists of fate, hopes lifted and hopes dashed made for an unforgettable literary experience. For months after, we would talk over parts of the story and relive the action. The depiction of characters was also incredible--you saw such a spectrum of people in their humanness and weakness and others through their heroic struggles. There were so many lessons in character along the way.
If you are uncertain whether this series is right for your family, I would encourage you to download the online version of Book 1 and see for yourself.