The books of Lemony Snicket are among some of the greatest middle-grade novels ever written. Scratch that. A Series of Unfortunate Events and the prequel series All the Wrong Questions are some of the best contemporary novels— period. If you’ve only ever watched the fantastic Netflix series, that’s good, but it also means you haven’t experienced the full brilliance of what makes Lemony Snicket so funny, meditative, and straight-up cool. The stories of the Baudelaire orphans, and later, Snicket himself, are more than just engaging mysteries. It’s a whole world of philosophy, adventure, and dark, sometimes macabre humor. The Snicket books have always pushed the boundary of what a children’s book can be and unlike some more popular books (*cough Harry Potter*) the stories don’t rely on magic or the notion of a “chosen one.” In the Lemony Snicket universe, problems are solved by invention, knowledge, and sometimes cooking.
So, with that in mind, is the latest book carrying the name “Lemony Snicket” in that same tradition? Is this really a book for the same (grade school-aged) kids who read, and loved the other books? The short answer is kind of.
Who is Lemony Snicket?
First things first: If for some reason, you don’t know this, Lemony Snicket is both a fictional character and an “author.” In real life, Lemony Snicket is the pen name of author Daniel Handler, but in the context of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Snicket is also a colorful character, a person who knew the parents of the Baudelaire orphans, and whose siblings — Jacques Snicket and Kit Snicket — have powerful and pivotal roles in those books. In the Netflix series, Snicket was played by Patrick Warburton (yes, of Seinfeld fame!) and added a whole new dimension to the character.
This is a long way of saying a book that is “by Lemony Snicket” is loaded. Before you even start reading it, you enter a world in which the writer also has one foot in a wacky, and wonderful fictional world. Imagine if the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was literally Willy Wonka. For the uninitiated, that’s what reading Snicket is like. Only much better.
Is Poison For Breakfast a children’s book?
The answer to this question is tricky. The kneejerk answer is probably no, simply because the plot or story isn’t really comparable to one of the more famous Lemony Snicket books. And yet, if you have a grade-school-aged kid, this book is amazing. If your kid is open-minded about what constitutes a book for them, then yes, this book is for kids, because the book is for everyone. As Snicket jokes many times throughout the book, “It could be said to be a book of philosophy, something almost no one likes, but it is also a mystery, and many people claim to like those.” The philosophy part is true. Poison For Breakfast is a slim book about thinking. To that end, Snicket talks about poetry, metaphor, dreams, and the unexpected things that make life worth living. It’s edgy and macabre in the same style as A Series of Unfortunate Events, but the story here is more meandering, a word here which means “there’s less pressure on the characters and the reader, which has a delightful result.” The story begins when Snicket gets a note that says “you had poison for breakfast,” and embarks on a brief existential and touching crisis to figure out what that means. This leads him on a journey that involves rants about supermarkets, swimming in the ocean, and having conversations with people who aren’t actually there. It’s a chef’s kiss of creativity and balm to any mental stress you might have.
It’s delightful and thoughtful, and for adults, it’s kind of like the book version of CBD gummies. But for our kids, it’s probably a challenging book, insofar as it encourages them to think about life and death in different ways than other books generally marketed at children. If that sounds pretentious, the good news is, the book isn’t. Something that makes all the Lemony Snicket books so good is that the writing never talks down to children. This book isn’t necessarily for children, but it isn’t child-averse either.
From brilliant slice-of-life-insights to laugh-out-loud jokes, to wonderful references to great books and films, Poison For Breakfast is a one-of-a-kind book. It dares to remember that kids are people too and that some adults used to be children.
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