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13 Words by Lemony Snicket

Illustrated by Maria Kalman

This is a sophisticated picture book by Lemony Snicket, the author of the ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ novels for children.

Snicket’s style is fairly adult. There is no pandering to childish sensibilities in terms of dumbing down of language.  This is not a picture book for those who find it difficult to read, or those who are not comfortable with surreal material.

The story is based around 13, key words, which thread a story together. You will get the idea when I tell you that the words as well as including simple words like ‘bird’, and ‘cake’, also include ‘despondent’, ‘haberdashery’ and ‘mezzo-soprano.’

If you are reading this book to your children then you need to be able to supply them with meanings for the words, and how they fit into the story.  My children love new words and some of the words made excellent conversational topics as we were reading the story.

Snicket is famous for puzzles and conundrums in his work, and it may be fun to approach the story in this way.  You are helping to solve a slightly surreal linguistic puzzle as you go on.

The words are listed in the frontispiece, and it could also be a good game to use foreknowledge of which word is coming next to guess where Snicket might take the story.

If you are using the book as a teaching aid, it might be nice to choose 13 words of your own and ask the children to create a story around them in response to Snicket’s story.

The illustrations perfectly complement the story and are also an excellent talking point. The pictures are clear, and illustrate Snicket’s points, but there are also oddities along the way, like the fact that the kitchen table has wooden legs that are sprouting leaves, or what the different types of hat the dog tries on in the haberdashers are called and what they might be used for.

It is a thoughtful and engaging book. It is quirky and gentle and funny.  I would recommend it for sevens and up because the story does need some discussion and explanation.

It would be an interesting work to introduce to older children who may have already read ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, and who are familiar with his work.