Snicket's unfortunate tales are fine fortune for families A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-10, by Lemony Snicket, 1999-2003, HarperCollins, $10.99.

We happened upon A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket completely by accident. My daughter, Kati, wanted to read a series. She combed the library shelves and misfortune brought her to these books. The title and the author's ridiculous name, Lemony Snicket, were intriguing. On the back cover, the author tells us this is a truly awful book and we should throw it to the ground and run away as far as possible.

The Bad Beginning, Book 1, opens with: "If you are interested in reading stories with a happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle." And the dedication is "To Beatrice; darling, dearest, dead."

We were hooked.

The nice part is there are 10 books now in the series. The latest, The Slippery Slope, Book 10, just hit the shelves.

The stories introduce us to the orphaned Baudelaire siblings, Violet, Klaus and baby Sunny. They are charming, clever and magnets for misfortune. In each book, we read about danger and doom for the children. We meet another utterly useless relative who is in charge of our beloved orphans. And, always there is the ever present danger of Count Olaf, who claims to be their uncle, but in truth, is only after their fortune. A very unlucky 13 books are planned.

The series is so popular we had to put them on hold at the library. We have also listened to some on tape while traveling. And whenever we play one of the series, the mantra from the backseat is always the same, "Let's use the drive-up and eat in the car." No one ever wants to stop the story. We arrive at our destination earlier than expected and with everybody's temper intact.

Snicket has been compared to authors Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens and Edward Gorey. The stories are bleak, but you don't care because the language is great.

We make these books a family project, one that we all enjoy. The books are recommended for children 9-12, but my younger children like them, too.

We are all entertained, we are reading together, and we are all anxious to move on to the next misadventure. What more could a mom ask for in a book? Sandi Pedersen

Help your kids get it: 7 keys to reading comprehension 7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It!, by Susan Zimmerman and Chryse Hutchins, 2003, Three Rivers Press, $14.95.

Teachers continually emphasize the importance of having parents read to their children every night, beginning when children are very young.

Zimmerman and Hutchins reinforce that point-confirming that reading is not just the teacher's job, but parents must take an active part in their children's learning. They offer a number of tips to help you do that. So grab your sticky notes and be ready to mark pages and jot down ideas that you want to remember.

For example, you'll find references to many good stories. Mark them for future reference, or use the cross-reference at the back of the book that indexes the stories by title and author. The complete bibliography is a great list of books for children to read to themselves or for parents to read aloud to them.

By developing the skills and using the seven keys to comprehension described in the book, children will be have a much better understanding of what they have read.

The seven key concepts are sensory images, background knowledge, questioning, drawing inferences, determining importance, synthesizing and fix-up strategies. Each chapter contains tips for parents to use in encouraging one of the seven key strategies.

These tips are divided into three reading stages: preschool readers, emerging readers and advancing readers. In each chapter, the authors include a list of questions to check whether children are understanding each key. Each chapter concludes with ways teachers and parents can work together to foster better reading skills in children.

The authors compare reading to making a batch of chocolate chip cookies. You need to include all the ingredients for the cookies to taste delicious. Children can just read words, but to understand what they have read, all the ingredients are


This book will help you mix all those ingredients so you can help your child become a successful reader. Judy Belanger

Book makes Halloween, history a family adventure Creepy Chicago: A Ghosthunter's Tales of the City's Scariest Sites, by Ursula Bielski, 2003, Lake Claremont Press, $8.

Well, this isn't quite a parenting book, but it is one of those books that can be a family activity perfect for October: ghost hunting.

Bielski has written several books telling adults where the ghosts hang out in Chicago. But this one is for children ages 8-12-a perfect age for hunting down haunts.

Kids at this age are fascinated with things that scare them and while there are some creepy stories in Creepy Chicago, it is all wrapped around history lessons that many kids won't even realize they are learning.

The chapters are divided into different neighborhoods. It would be a great Halloween activity to ask your children to read through the book and devise a tour they would like take. "Hey, I want to see where they shot John Dillinger."

OK, you may be thinking, this woman is morbid. Maybe, you're right. We lived just south of Rosehill Cemetery until my boys were 3 and 6. So, when we wanted to take a walk, we went to the lush, green cemetery to walk near the ponds and feed the geese. My older son learned his alphabet off of the grave stones; the dates of birth and death were perfect for subtraction lessons.

Ghost stories fascinate me. They fascinate kids too.

Depending on your children, you can keep the scare factor high or low with this book. For example, you could walk down Clark Street in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood and visit the St. Valentine's Day massacre site and then visit the Lincoln Park Zoo. Or you could go to Navy Pier, stop at the Ferris wheel and the Chicago Children's Museum. Then, walk to the end of the Pier, read the story about the ghost in the ballroom, look out at the lake and talk about love.

If you want to take it to the next level, go to one of the cemeteries-maybe take a flashlight and walk though Robinson Woods in the dark, telling the story of Alexander Robinson in chapter three.

This is a book filled with history and learning. It's a great catalyst for family outings. Susy Schultz

Kids Eat Chicago

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