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ABC 7.30 Report


Lemony Snicket moves in on Harry Potter market

COMPERE: First came J.K. Rowling and her boy-wizard Harry Potter. Now there's a new best-selling author children are wild about, called Lemony Snicket.

Now Snicket's "series of unfortunate events" has not yet enjoyed the same phenomenal success as Harry Potter, but it has sold nearly two million copies in the US and over 120,000 copies so far in Australia.

Lemony Snicket, whose real name is Daniel Handler, is in Australia to launch his latest book, and meet his growing army of young fans. But as Rebecca Baillie reports, some adult critics feel that the themes are just a touch bitter for young readers.

REBECCA BAILLIE: In bookshops and church halls around Australia this week, children eagerly await the appearance of the author being touted as the next big thing in children's literature -- Lemony Snicket.

As its title implies, Lemony Snicket's series of unfortunate events is a collection of dark and twisted tales which has become a global best-seller.

VOX POP OF A YOUNG READER: I like them because they're exciting and they draw the reader into them and I'd like to see what happens in the end. I've only read up to the third.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Up to the third, that's quite a lot of books though, isn't it?

VOX POP OF YOUNG READER: I've read up to the fifth.

DANIEL HANDLER, AUTHOR: We waited for the publishing house to hate it and then we at the publishing house waited for the librarians and parents to hate it, and then we all waited for children to hate it and none of that happened. So it has been more sort of failure of the series to fail than it has really been a success. It has been mind-boggling.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Do you see them as the next Harry Potter?

CHRIS PAGE, BOOKSHOP OWNER: No, not really. I mean, they're the next Harry Potter in terms of that a lot of young people are reading them, they're nothing like Harry Potter, but what J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame did was she created that gap there that children wanted. They want some really good things to read.

DANIEL HANDLER: I didn't realising you were expecting Mr Snicket. I guess you haven't been told. It's quite sad.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Lemony Snicket is also known as 30-something author Daniel Handler.

To maintain the mystique of his alter ego, Handler tells his young fans that Lemony Snicket is unavailable and he is appearing in his place.

DANIEL HANDLER: Another children's author once told me that she liked to, when she met children, she liked to dispel the mystery behind books and I thought, "Why would you want to do that?"

REBECCA BAILLIE: It's also part of the appeal, his books tell the story of three orphans whose parents die in the beginning of book one. In fact, nothing good ever happens in the books and the readers love it.

VOX POP: Most books like Harry Potter something good's going to happen and you can predict what's going to happen to the end of the book. And in these ones, like, they like, get hurt and stuff like that, and just sort of like a change when you're reading.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Do you think it is sad that nothing good ever happens to these children?

VOX POP: Yes it is, very sad.


VOX POP: Because nothing good seems to go good in their lives.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Do you think real life is like that?


DANIEL HANDLER: I think if they're a little bit sad at the end of reading them or feel a little bit scared at night, that just seems like an emotional connection to the book they're reading.

It seems no different from being happy when you read a happy book and I hope that my books are part of a well-balanced literary diet among the world's youth.

DR ROSEMARY JOHNSTON UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, SYDNEY: I don't want to knock the books, but I feel that I would have liked to have seen the author embrace a child into the enterprise of reading, rather than this rather, negative approach.

I don't like the completely negative approach all the way through and for me it doesn't work.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Dr Rosemary Johnston, a children's literature academic at Sydney's University of Technology, believes while it's a good thing that children are reading them, the books' negative tone is patronising.

DR ROSEMARY JOHNSTON: These aren't badly crafted, but they're written down. There's a sense to me of the books writing down a little bit to the child reader. I like the child, I like to elevate the child reader.

DANIEL HANDLER: It's supposed to be mock moralistic and I think that children enjoy it because it makes fun of the tone that they so often encounter in life where their teachers and their librarians and parents are sort of over explaining things to them in a very simplistic tone.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Daniel Handler didn't set out to write children's books. He's also written several adult novels. But the author of such ominous titles as The Bad Beginning and The Vile Village, was attracted to writers such as Roald Dahl.

DANIEL HANDLER: I read everything I could get my hands on but most books drove me nuts.

I was always sick of the constant sort of cheerful and happy endings and all the bullies who turned out to be nice people and all of the mean teachers who apologised and turned good. That was just something I never saw in my life and so frustrated me in books.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Daniel Handler's one-man show leaves his audience delighted and some children still wondering about the identity of the real Lemony Snicket. A mystery, which lets their imaginations run wild.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Do you think he was Lemony Snicket or someone else?

VOX POP: Someone else. That's for sure.

VOX POP: I think it was Lemony Snicket but he's trying, because he's writing about miserable things he's trying to make us feel really sad.

DANIEL HANDLER: It's just very, very rewarding work. I think you never love a book the way you love a book when you're nine-years-old or 10-years-old.

You never reread it the way you reread it at that time and it's just been a joy to find myself in that very privileged space in a kid's head.

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