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The Patriot News

For young readers craving scary, Snicket's latest is hairier than Harry

Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Of The Patriot-News

Harry Potter just not scary enough for your 10-year-old?

Odds are she's itching to get her hands on the latest Gothic installment of "A Series of Unfortunate Events," which hits bookstores and libraries today.

"The Slippery Slope" by Lemony Snicket, a.k.a. Daniel Handler, is the tenth volume in the series tracking the travails of the Baudelaire orphans. Violet, 14, Klaus, 12, and infant Sunny encounter enough villains and outrageous misfortune to make even the boy wizard quake in his robes.

The first book in the series, 1999's "The Bad Beginning," is still at No. 5 on the New York Times Bestseller List of children's books. Last year, the nine books and "Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Biography," sold 3.3 million copies combined, according to Publishers Weekly.

"The Slippery Slope" already sits at No. 18 on the amazon.com bestseller list and No. 13 on Barnes and Noble's Web site. Thirteen books are planned all told, and a feature film starring Jim Carrey as the evil Count Olaf is in the works.

Sara Fahringer, 12, who is home-schooled in Camp Hill, has all nine Snicket books and says she likes the author's quirky style.

"He himself is like a character," Fahringer said. "He really relates to the children and really pretends that they're real and that all of these things have actually happened."

L.K. Thompson, 11, a sixth-grader at Camp Hill Middle School, has also read all the books and will read the new one. He thinks they're better than "Harry Potter."

"They have adventure and exciting fun," he said. "They're funny at some points, and they're sad at some points."

Snicket writes in a bleak but humorous manner similar to Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl. Mechanicsburg Area School District reading supervisor Barbara Marinak says it's the books' "very sophisticated, satirical humor" that makes them appealing to upper elementary-age kids.

"There's a darkness to them that is comical that they really enjoy," she said. "The way the characters deal with the events is somewhat unexpected, the characters are unpredictable."

Mary Alice Spiegel, children's librarian at the Cleve J. Fredricksen Library in Camp Hill, says she knows kids love the books "because they're not usually on the shelves." Seventeen copies of "The Slippery Slope" have been reserved at both the Camp Hill and East Pennsboro locations.

"I like them just because the children are creative in their ways to outwit Count Olaf," she said. "They are rather dark -- they're orphans, they're all very young children -- and they have horrible things happen (to them)."

Spiegel says the Snicket books are not as wildly popular as the Harry Potter series, but hold their own.

"Every cart (of returned books) that comes back ... there are always several copies of the different titles (on them)," she said.

Marinak says the Snicket books are "as popular as 'Harry Potter,' if not more popular" among her young readers.

"They fly off the shelves in the library and we sell them at all the book fairs," she said, adding they're equally big among boys and girls.

Hershey Public Library children's librarian Rita Smith said the series appeals to "a very distinct group."

"It's a love-hate situation -- they either adore (the books) or they don't like them at all," Smith said. "That sort of authoritative, all-knowing tone that they're written in appeals to some kids' senses of humor."

The kids who don't like the books, Smith says, find them "condescending and a little bit boring."

"I don't think they're condescending at all," she said. "I think the author really has a great respect for children's intelligence. It's so new and fresh -- there isn't really anything out there with that kind of dark humor for kids and I think it really appeals."