Woe Is He


When author Lemony Snicket, who writes unwholesome and troubling children’s books, gets phone calls asking for Mr. Snicket, he replies with a fit of giggles. “You can call me Daniel,” he says, reverting to his alter ego, Daniel Handler. Between Lemony and Daniel, who exist in the same body but different sections of a library, eight books have been published — two for adults and, for kids, six installments of “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

“None of them end happily,” he says of the books in his adventure series about Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, three orphans who endure “tales full of misery and woe” at the hands of the despicable Count Olaf. He says his publisher, given the books’ unrelenting darkness, has received “a couple cranky letters, but there’s been much less outcry than anyone expected.”

The Bad Beginning, the first in the series, will be staged this weekend as part of the Reading Reptile’s annual Directions, New Strategies, Applications children’s lit festival. When asked whether The Bad Beginning screamed out to be musicalized, the author says, “Yeah, it screamed out in sorrow and desperation.”

That hasn’t deterred Debbie Pettid and the D.N.A. volunteers who adapted the show for the bookstore’s new performance stage. Pettid says, “In the show, we’ve taken quite a few songs from Oklahoma and changed lyrics. Oh, what a beautiful morning/Oh, what a beautiful day becomes, for example, Oh, what a dreadful beginning/Oh, what a horrible day.” Meanwhile, Lemony Snicket himself can be glimpsed onstage as he narrates the story — a rare treat given the fact that this author dodges photographers’ attempts to get head shots.

The festival includes readings from several authors (though Friday’s event at the Kansas City Zoological Park is sold out), including local writer and illustrator Lisa Campbell Ernst, and concludes with a concert Saturday night at Community Christian Church by Bill Harley, whom Entertainment Weekly called “the Mark Twain of contemporary kids’ music.”