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Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 30, 2002

How unfortunate

Doom, gloom, disgust at the library

Record-Eagle staff writer

TRAVERSE CITY--You’ve probably never heard of Violet Baudelaire. How unfortunate for you.

But Eleanor Serocki has. In fact, the 10-year-old Traverse City girl (who prefers to be known simply as "Nor") was dressed exactly like her brilliant but ill-fated heroine on Saturday: violet dress, broad white collar, her long hair done up in pink ribbons to keep it from falling into her eyes.

The three Baudelaire children--Violet, Klaus and baby Sunny--are the stars of "A Series of Unfortunate Events," a darkly funny series of children’s books written by a mysterious and reclusive author named Lemony Snicket. For the past several years, Snicket fans have followed the misadventures of the three orphans through such titles as "The Bad Beginning," "The Vile Village" and "The Miserable Mill," and Nor Serocki has been right there with them.

"I’ve read them all, except ‘The Carnivorous Carnival’," she said. "They’re great."

Each year, the Traverse Area District Library holds a special midwinter event for children who are out of school during Christmas vacation. One year it’s an American Girl Tea Party, another year it’s a Hobbit Party or a Harry Potter Party. This year, in honor of the ill-starred Baudelaire children, the library called its Saturday afternoon gathering "An Unfortunate Event."

But Snicket isn’t the only children’s author who’s found fame amusing young readers with plots and characters that would strike most people as depressing, tasteless or simply odd. The late Roald Dahl, author of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Matilda," is another. So this year’s Unfortunate Event was also dedicated to Dahl and a handful of other off-kilter children’s writers.

Young attendees like Nor were encouraged to come as their favorite characters. When they arrived in the meeting room (suitably decked with cobwebs and black bunting) they were presented with Snicket trading cards, stationery and bookmarks, played games like the Giant Peach Pit Toss, visited the teller of gloomy fortunes and the Insult Box and listened to selections from Snicket, Dahl and other writers.

"This is one of the more disgusting things I’ve read lately," said Bernadette Groppuso, the library’s youth services director, as she recited a selection from Debi Gliori’s "Pure Dead Magic," involving a flying dragon’s digestive problem and its disastrous effect on the people below.

These midwinter events aren’t just a ploy to get youngsters away from their video games and into the library again, said youth services aides Jill Bert and Michele Rudd; they’re also a way to generate excitement about new books and introduce children to literary forms they may not have discovered yet.

A few children at Saturday’s party were also introduced to disappointment. They’d heard that the seldom-spotted Snicket would be at the library signing autographs--but they’d heard wrong.

"My," said Groppuso. "How unfortunate."