My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Let’s be clear right now, because I don’t want you confused by the charming blue bird on the cover into thinking that this is a beginning vocabulary book. No, this is a Lemony Snicket book. That means that after “teaching” us the word bird, we are confronted with the second word: Despondent. The bird is despondent. Too much, too soon? Okay, Snicket backs off and gives us cake and dog. However, the reader would be wise to listen to the little voice telling them that words like haberdashery and panache are lurking around the corner.
Maria Kalman’s brightly surreal art is a perfect match for Snicket’s prose. There is something in-jokey about the illustrations and I found myself searching in vain for figures from American Gothic or the Boy in Blue. The bizarre characters leaving you feeling like anything is possible in this world, and isn’t that great?
Would the art be quite so appealing to a young reader? That is my fear with primitive styles where perspective and proportion are shifted in a way that appears to be an imitations of a child’s painting. It is the right choice for this world where a bird must paint eleven ladders ten colors, but it leaves me wondering if this is one of those books that adults will appreciate more than children do. Snicket’s writing always has humor designed to particularly appeal to adult readers, but I simply don’t know if this one has the kid-appeal to match.