Great Illustrated Books

The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events series)

By Lemony Snicket, Illustrated by Brett Helquist and Michael Kupperman

HarperCollins, 2000
Pages : 240
Suggested Ages: 8 and Up
ISBN: 9780064408639

In Book the Fifth of the melodramatic but farcical and vocabulary-enhancing saga of the unremittingly unfortunate Baudelaire siblings, "A Series of Unfortunate Events,” the three orphans are sent to Prufrock Prep, a dreadful boarding school whose uplifting motto is "Memento Mori" (Latin for “remember you will die”).

On the back cover is a letter from the dyspeptic narrator stating, in part:

Dear Reader,

If you are looking for a story about cheerful youngsters spending a jolly time at boarding school, look elsewhere . . . For the Baudelaires, school turns out to be another miserable episode in their unlucky lives . . .

Truth be told, within the chapters that make up this dreadful story, the children will face snapping crabs, strict punishments, dripping fungus . . . and the metric system.

The prissy pseudonymous author, who loves to lecture the reader on the meaning of difficult words in long-winded and convoluted detail, takes great pride in the plucky orphans, for whom everything can only go tragically (or comically, depending on how warped your sense of humor is) wrong. This is pre-gothic tragicomedy at its best, and you only have to read this one (or the first book in the series, The Bad Beginning, where the children’s parents perish in an unfortunate fire, and are sent to live with the nefarious Count Olaf, a distant relative and all-around baddie) or mention the movie to get readers clamoring for the other 12 witty titles about the disaster-prone Baudelaire siblings, Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny. Grown-ups tend to misunderstand the mindset of the series and gasp, horrified, “But it’s so unremittingly bleak! Only terrible things happen!” So true. Just when you think things are getting better for the Baudelaires, all you need to do is turn the page and presto, another ghastly calamity befalls them. That’s what makes the series of 13 books such awful fun. Don’t worry—children get it.

All of the books are available in paperback (as it says on the splendid website,, “More Misery for Less Money!”), and once you’ve read one aloud, children will doubtless want to prolong the misery and read another.

Reviewed by : JF.


If you love this book, then try:

Anderson, M. T. Whales on Stilts. Harcourt, 2005.

Black, Holly, and Tony DiTerlizzi. The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1: The Field Guide. Simon & Schuster, 2003. (And others in the Spiderwick series.)

Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bud, Not Buddy. Delacorte, 1999.

Gaiman, Neil. Coraline. HarperCollins, 2002.

Levine, Gail Carson. Dave at Night. HarperCollins, 1999.

Reeve, Philip. Larklight. Bloomsbury, 2006.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Scholastic, 1998. (And others in the Harry Potter series.)

Snicket, Lemony. The Bad Beginning. HarperCollins, 1999. (And others in the A Series of Unfortunate Events series.)

Wallace, Barbara Brooks. Peppermints in the Parlor. Atheneum, 1980.

Wallace, Barbara Brooks. The Twin in the Tavern. Atheneum, 1993.

Critics have said

"Snicket disarms us again with his playful juxtapositions--only he can compare bombs with strawberry shortcake (both are as dangerous to make as assumptions), muse on how babies adjust developmentally to the idea of curtains, or ponder why the Baudelaire orphans would not want to be stalks of celery despite their incessant bad luck as humans. We can't get enough of this splendid series of misadventures, and can only wager that swarms of young readers will be right next to us in line for the next installment."