How to Teach Writing with Lemony Snicket

“All the secrets of the world are contained in books. Read at your own risk.” ― Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket knows just how important reading is. Daniel Handler, the author behind the pseudonym/character of Lemony Snicket, is known widely for his novels, A Series of Unfortunate Events. He has also written several picture books for children under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket. These include The Dark, Goldfish Ghost, The Bad Mood and the Stick, and The Lump of Coal.

In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket regularly breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader, using a rare second-person point of view. Lemony Snicket is seen as an additional character and narrator created by Daniel Handler. Snicket explains complex vocabulary, foreshadows events, tells the reader about himself, and directly interacts with the audience based on the story. This is what Lemony Snicket is known for. 

No wonder students and teachers alike enjoy his books. His unique way of writing, coupled with his dynamic and eccentric stories, make for a powerful combination in children’s literature.

Mentor Text is a book or literary work that serves as an example of writing for students to emulate. A mentor text is writing that is studied for author’s craft, word choice, and other skills to help students learn how to effectively write. 

Lemony Snicket is a wonderful author to utilize for mentor text in the classroom. 

Point of View

His books are the perfect examples of teaching point of view, particularly the rare second-person point of view. 

Although A Series of Unfortunate Events can be seen as a third-person omniscient point of view as all the characters’ feelings and thoughts are explained, it is also second-person as Lemony Snicket talks to the reader directly. By speaking to the reader, students gain a clearer view, explanations, and another perspective, all within the same book. 

For example: “It is useless for me to describe to you how terrible Violet, Klaus, and even Sunny felt in the time that followed. If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.” -The Bad Beginning

“If you are interested in stories with 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.” – The Bad Beginning

“I don’t know if you know this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong.” -The Bad Beginning

“For instance, if you are a bank robber – although I hope you aren’t – you might go to the bank a few days before you planned to rob it.” -The Bad Beginning 

Students can see how Lemony Snicket uses a second-person point of view in an interesting and unique way, and they can incorporate this into their writing. 

Word Choice

Word choice is an important part of writing. The words we choose as writers make our stories interesting and dynamic, drawing in the reader. Lemony Snicket has a very unique word choice. His word choice is often a mixture of sarcasm, humor, and enlightenment. Snicket, or Handler, is an effective writer utilizing precise language to portray the story. Students will become inspired to write in their own individualistic way.

Here are some wonderful word choice examples:

“The book was long, and difficult to read, and Klaus became more and more tired as the night wore on. Occasionally his eyes would close. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over.” -The Bad Beginning 

“If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats.” -The Wide Window

Figurative Language

Writers use figurative language to help readers better understand what is being described in a relatable way. Figurative language, from similes to metaphors, from onomatopoeia to personification, is utilized as a type of word choice that helps bring the reader deeper into the story. Lemony Snicket has a penchant for unique figurative language. 

Here are some examples of similes: 

“Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.” -The Slippery Slope

“People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.” -The Grim Grotto

“Strange as it may seem, I still hope for the best, even though the best, like an interesting piece of mail, so rarely arrives, and even when it does it can be lost so easily.” -The Beatrice Letters

“A library is like an island in the middle of a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded.” – Horseradish

Lemony Snicket loves to use another type of figurative language: personification.

For example: “This is my knife. It is very sharp and very eager to hurt you.” – The Reptile Room

In fact, he wrote a whole picture book on the concept. The Dark is about a young boy scared of…you guessed it…the dark. Dark is personified throughout this book and even speaks to the main character.

Dark is also a cute picture book to read around Halloween for upper elementary to middle school students. We have a whole unit on it, with emphasis on teaching personification among other skills, for grades 4-7. Check it out now! 

We also have figurative language posters that my be helpful to you. Check it out here!

Grab yours today!


Writers use word choice to create a mood. The mood is how a reader feels while encountering a book. It is the emotional response that writers try to get readers to elicit through specific word choices.

Lemony Snicket is outstanding at this, especially in A Series of Unfortunate Events. As he uses a second-person point of view, he sets certain moods for the reader. One of the best pieces of writing I’ve seen to evoke the mood of deep sadness is as follows: 

“The way sadness works is one of the strange riddles of the world. If you are stricken with a great sadness, you may feel as if you have been set aflame, not only because of the enormous pain, but also because your sadness may spread over your life, like smoke from an enormous fire. You might find it difficult to see anything but your own sadness, the way smoke can cover a landscape so that all anyone can see is black. You may find that if someone pours water all over you, you are damp and distracted, but not cured of your sadness, the way a fire department can douse a fire but never recover what has been burnt down.” -The Bad Beginning

Students can read Lemony Snicket or Handler’s books cover to cover to truly understand how his word choice effectively creates mood, but even well-picked quotes can show students how to evoke a mood in their own writing. 


As a teacher, I have used A Series of Unfortunate Events as read-aloud books, one after the other. We would pause and discuss the author’s craft of Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler. By utilizing his writing and focusing on specific quotes, students can see isolated examples of precise skills they can use in their own writing. One of my favorite college professors always said, “The more a student reads, the better writer they will be.” I highly recommend that students read Lemony Snicket’s novels and picture books to be inspired to create their own unique and wonderful writing. 

Using Scary Stories to Motivate Writers

Are you searching for a way to motivate writers in your classroom? If so, grab some quick and easy scary mentor text to read to your students during October. Reading a variety of samples of mentor text is an awesome way to model the craft of writing. Plus, using scary stories to motivate writers is even easier in the month of October.

Literary Elements and Figurative Language

What’s the secret to writing a suspenseful Halloween story? By making sure key pieces of literary elements and figurative language are intertwined throughout. Many spooky stories contain such crucial aspects as a unique setting on the edge of night, spooky sounds that only well-crafted onomatopoeia can produce, and sensory words that really make a reader feel a part of the action.


As you know, the setting of a story is the location in which a narrative takes place and time of the events. The setting creates the mood. However, a scary story doesn’t always have to occur in the typical graveyard or a haunted house with a long history of misfortune. No. It can be somewhere totally unexpected, but with the right twist and turns, becomes a place of danger, a place of fear. For example, in the story, The Creepy Carrots, who would have ever thought a carrot patch named Crackenhopper Field could produce an air of fright. Nonetheless, it most certainly does through the creative mind of Aaron Reynolds.

While much emphasis is placed on the location, which is indeed extremely important, so is the time. Nothing grabs the reader’s attention more than when a story begins at the edge of night. For example, Linda Williams writes in The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, “She walked so long and so far that it started to get dark. There was only a sliver of moon shining through the night.” I personally believe it has to do with primal fear kicking in with the reader, creating an environment in which the hairs stand up on the back of their necks and they are dying to know more.


What’s another crucial aspect that a spooky story must contain? Sound. Nothing creates more dread than an unexpected sound coming from an unexpected place, no matter the time or location. For example, in The Creepy Carrots, Reynolds writes, “Jasper was about to help himself to a victory snack…when he heard it. The soft…sinister…tunktunktunk of carrots creeping.” No one is scared of pulling carrots from the ground. However, when the sky is on the edge of darkness and the field is located along the side of woods, and you are all alone, then suddenly a sinister echo vibrates from the garden behind you. Yes, primal fear automatically kicks in, even if it is a carrot patch.

Sensory Words

Last, what brings a reader fully into a story than the use of sensory words in mentor text. Sensory words really make the reader feel a part of the action. In the story, The Snowmen at Night, Buehner writes, “Some bite into caramel treats, which give them gooey grins.” I can taste the caramel now. Can you?

Let’s explore the mentor text mentioned above even more.

The Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown

A quick and fun mentor text to read aloud is The Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown. It definitely takes suspense to a whole different level by demonstrating to your students how a simple carrot field can be transformed into a sinister setting.

Can carrots, the simple vegetable, that doctors tell everyone is good for them, stalk you home and make your life such a disaster you are scared to sleep at night? That is exactly what happened to the fun-loving bunny named Jasper one fall.

This mentor text is perfectly written and illustrated in the Twilight Zone style of the 60s. Reynolds uses the setting of a carrot field on the edge of night to send shivers down the spines of his readers. The author brilliantly weaves the figurative language of onomatopoeia throughout this story to keep his readers on edge.

Additionally, this story makes the perfect mentor text to demonstrate the writing of a scary story without using any truly scary parts. I mean, who fears a couple of carrots, right? Well, just ask Jasper that question.

Publisher’s Synopsis: In this Caldecott Honor-winning picture book, The Twilight Zone comes to the carrot patch as a rabbit fears his favorite treats are out to get him. Celebrated artist Peter Brown’s stylish illustrations pair perfectly with Aaron Reynold’s text in this hilarious picture book that shows it’s all fun and games…until you get too greedy.

The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams

Another great one that will instantly grab your student’s attention is The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything. The use of onomatopoeia is expertly crafted throughout this story.

How do you scare a little old lady who isn’t afraid of anything? Well, if things don’t scare her, maybe sounds will. Williams incorporates the figurative language of onomatopoeia to create a fun and rhythmic story for all readers.

Publisher’s Synopsis: Once upon a time, there was a little old lady who was not afraid of anything! But one autumn night, while walking in the woods, the little old lady heard . . . clomp, clomp, shake, shake, clap, clap. And the little old lady who was not afraid of anything had the scare of her life! With bouncy refrains and classic art, this timeless Halloween story is perfect for reading aloud.

The Snowmen at Night, by Caralyn Buehner

Another fantastic book to read to show how an ordinary setting can be changed into a spooky narrative is The Snowmen at Night, by Caralyn Buehner. Who would have ever thought of using snowmen for a Halloween story? However, Buehner does it beautifully.

Are there such things as snowmen at Halloween? Not only does this mentor text show how to craft a good story, but it also gives your students a great research project. Plus, adding a nonfiction writing project motivates writers as well.

After analyzing this story for literary elements and figurative language, my students also did some research. They researched how many states and countries may possibly have snowmen on their front lawns during Halloween. The answer might amaze you.

Publisher’s Synopsis: Have you ever built a snowman and discovered the next day that his grin has gotten a little crooked, or his tree-branch arms have moved? And you’ve wondered . . . what do snowmen do when we’re not watching? After an early snowfall, a few kids build some snowmen before going trick-or-treating. And when the kids go off to bed, the snowmen have their own Halloween festival! 


An assortment of scary mentor text may be just the thing to share with your writers this October. Using scary stories is the perfect mentor text to motivate writers in the classroom. This is the month to clearly show the power of the literary element and the figurative language through a variety of scary stories. Your students will love to read or listen to as many as possible. There are so many different samples of a mentor text to model the craft of writing. Dive in and use as many as you can this month.

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Writing Ideas for Middle School: A True Superhero Tale

A Peek Into My Lesson Plan Book: Identities & Life Stories

One of the struggles I’ve seen numerous middle schoolers face deals with identity. Navigating the middle years is confusing. Between hormones, growing brains, and transitioning from child to adult, students sometimes don’t understand what their identity is anymore. Writing Ideas for Middle School: My Life Story, a True Superhero Tale describes how to guide middle school students through the process of discovering their identities and writing compelling autobiographies at the same time.

Middle schoolers can be a conundrum. Caught in the middle between the elementary level and high school, they are part child and part mini adult. It takes a crazy person to enjoy this middle school age, but I definitely do. Some days, middle schoolers can make me laugh hysterically and other days, I may or may not want to bang my head against a wall…but all in all, I really do love teaching this age. 

At the beginning of this school year, I decided to focus on identity with my 8th-grade students. I’m going to let you peek into my lesson plans so to speak for that first month of school.

What does identity mean?

We first began our discussion on identity by simply doing that: discussing what the word means. What does identity mean? What makes up someone’s identity? We discussed the varying factors such as one’s ethnicity, culture, religion, residence, whether they’re a sibling, a daughter, or a son. We discussed how our varying experiences can shape identity. Students wrote their life stories to demonstrate how their varied experiences helped shape their identity and who they are today.

Students first completed a timeline of ten to fifteen main events that had a big impact on their lives. Then, they used these timelines as a springboard to write their life stories. One to two main events turned into a body paragraph in their life stories. Once learning thoroughly how to write an introduction paragraph with a captivating first line, students tackled their life stories with one body paragraph a day, totally six to seven body paragraphs. 

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

As students completed their life stories, I read aloud the book Ghost by Jason Reynolds. This is a novel about a boy named Castle Cranshaw (nicknamed Ghost), whose life is changed drastically when he witnesses his father almost shoot his mother and then turn the gun on Castle as well. Castle and his mother ran quickly out of their apartment and thus started Castle’s first reason for running: to save his own life. Castle, or Ghost, spends most of his adolescence with his father in jail. He accumulates infractions at school and becomes a pro at running away from his problems until he literally takes up running. Ghost uses his running talent, that he did not know he possessed, to join a track team that changes his life. 

We discussed how that one major event of his father almost killing him and his mother changed his life completely. It also became a catalyst for the other events in his life. We talked about how negative events in our life can shape our identity as well as positive events.

We also discussed the idea that we could use those negative events to help create change in our identity. The students also discussed how not to let it become the reason for shaping our identities in something we never wanted. Basically, there is a time for grieving, but we should use those hard life events to motivate us and not let it be an excuse to stay in a cycle of unhealthy behavior like Ghost was doing.

Click below and listen to Jason Reynolds, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, discuss how anxieties have affected him and how banned books can keep students from becoming better human beings.

Your life story is your superpower

We watched the Ted Talk of Matthew Carter who was the real-life friend of Jason Reynolds and inspiration for Ghost. We heard Carter explain the situation that occurred between his mother and her boyfriend that was extremely similar to Ghost’s event of his father almost killing him and his mother. Carter used the central theme of your life story being your superpower.

We used this concept to explore more of our identity. How was our life story our superpower? Did our “superpower” shape our identity? How can we use this theme in our life stories we were writing? 

Ethnicity and culture can shape identity

Next, we watched the America Ferrera Ted Talk, “My Identity is A Superpower-Not an Obstacle.” Ferrera is an award-winning actress and producer for her work on Ugly Betty. Ferrera spoke on how she had a challenging time breaking into acting because of her ethnicity. She wanted to choose roles that didn’t propel a certain stereotype of her culture-but roles that helped show real-life Latina women. Ferrera said: “I was never actually asking the system to change. I was asking it to let me in, and those aren’t the same thing.” 

We answered questions about her Ted Talk and explored how ethnicity and culture can shape identity as well. 

We utilized Ghost, the Matthew Carter Ted Talk, and the America Ferrera Ted Talk to help us dive deeper into their life story writing piece. I didn’t just want stories about visiting Disney and our most fun birthday party, even though students put those events in their stories as well, but I also wanted deeper events discussed- the very core events that impacted them.

Jason Reynolds never saw himself in books

We used this discussion of identity to finally explore what kinds of books we want to read in class. We learned Jason Reynolds, the author of Ghost, was an author who was never able to see himself in books and this was a major driving force for why he became an author. Students filled out graphic organizers exploring the kinds of books they wanted to read, some having to do with their identity as athletes or their interests in art. Others decided they wanted to read books about topics they’ve always loved but never dived into. This was the perfect springboard to help them choose their first independent novel for their Book Review Project which can be found here: 

The importance of connecting with characters

We also discussed the importance of connecting with characters and seeing ourselves in books; yet, we can still learn from books that are completely different from our own experiences, such as our first novel study: The Diary of Anne Frank

We went through the writing process extensively to compose their life stories. It took us a good month of drafting, peer editing, and revising but students finally accomplished penning them. The best part is they have their whole lives to shape their identities and more of their stories.


By using various Ted Talks, Ghost by Jason Reynolds, and different discussions on identity, students were able to write a deep and moving life story and explore their identities. Middle school students are at the perfect age to dive into these types of lessons as they are continually growing, learning, and becoming who they were meant to be.

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