This is definitely NOT the greatest children's book ever written. But when I read the first in the series - A Bad Beginning - I thought it was awesome. Probably because I read as a read-aloud with my 5th graders and their enthusiasm was contagious. Yep, even savy, hormone driven, attitude toting ten-and-eleven-year-olds like being read to out loud. Read aloud time was probably the only truly peaceful part of my day with them. I wouldn't have minded spending the entire day reading aloud in that class.
This book isn't very good for many reasons. First and foremost (and thus most obvious) is that it falls into the trap of many children's books by giving every single child in the book a line EACH AND EVERY SINGLE TIME SOMEONE SPEAKS. Which means you have to read 3+ lines, with descriptions of the voice and look of each character, when one line would have sufficed. Over. Kill.
Second, Lemony Snicket felt compelled to include an atrocious character named, "Sunny." The baby, and probably by far the smartest of the Baudelaire orphans (by the way, what is with that name?), she is also the most annoying. Granted, a big part of there reason why I think she's annoying is because when my CT read aloud her lines, he used this really loud, really obnoxious, really grating voice. All. The. Freaking. Time. Note to book readers: not everything ending with an exclamation point needs to be shouted out, spit flying and vocal chords creaking, thank-you-very-much. If Sunny really is as three dimensional as the stuff behind the lines hints at, then she would have a much more subtle voice.
Third, there is only one main villain, Count Olaf. He is the one sole savior of these books. Foul, evil, conniving, and flamboyantly so. But there is only one. Which makes the stories more predictable than any Daily Show joke about the Bush Administration. Mix it up a little! Sure Harry Potter's #1 nemesis was Voldemort, but there were other bad guys thrown into the mix as well.
Overall, great to read aloud with kids. Nothing else.