My 9th grade English class has decided to read Alice in Wonderland in preparation for the new release movie by Tim Burton. While I will be experimenting with literature circles for this read (that is, students will be placed in small groups and as a group they will decide how much to read per week, what projects to complete for an assessment grade, how to study vocabulary, etc) — I need to have a good handle on the work before we begin to study it on February 26th. I am sad to say that my educational background did not require me to read this classic before now.
As is true to my nature, I like to try to read as much about a book and its author as I can before teaching it AND without going overboard. To aid this enrichment process I chose Alice I Have Been and The Other Alice to read alongside the famed fairy tale. I will briefly review of three works in this post.
The Other Alice by Christina Bjork and Inga-Karin Eriksson is a short (less than 100 pages) non-fiction book about the real Alice in Wonderland – Alice Liddell. The series of short chapters briefly describe the relationship between the Dean Liddell’s family and the math don at Oxford, Charles Dodgson, otherwise known as Lewis Carroll. The book is geared toward the Young Adult market, so there are lots of pictures, photographs, and useful background information about the culture of Oxford, England during the Victorian Era. The somewhat controversial subject matter between Charles Dodgson and Alice remains pure in this book, and that is appropriate for my classroom. In my opinion, this book gave just the right amount of background information to help me appreciate the classic story.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll — Penguin edition. I absolutely LOVE the Penguin classic editions. I find the long introductions very educational and helpful to the analysis of the story, and the detailed footnotes for each chapter also add value and enrichment. I was somewhat skeptical about reading this story; it is, after all, fantasy fiction and I often have a difficult time relating to books that are not grounded in reality. This book, however, I thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps it is my recent foray into the Harry Potter books that have made my mind more susceptible to this genre – or perhaps it is because the novella is only a 100 pages long and geared toward a younger audience, but for whatever reason, I found the read quite enjoyable. I particularly liked Carroll’s use of puns and word games throughout the entire book; ;and his sense of “logic” in this nonsense world was quite humorous. It kept my intellect challenged while the dream sequence challenged my imagination. I think the class will enjoy this work as well.
Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin was a pure joy to read — with or without the original classic tie-in. In this historical fiction novel, Alice is now over 80 years old and looking back on her life. Since she was only ten when the famous (infamous?) boat ride occurred that culminated in the tale of “her” story – our narrator is somewhat unreliable. In fact, she does not really clear up the mystery of what happened between herself and Mr. Dodgson that caused her mother such grave concern – until the very end of the book. Without giving away any of the suspense, I must say that I was thrilled with the way in which Ms. Benjamin told the entire story – and in particular, with the way in which she tied up all the loose ends. This book is an absolute must-read, in my humble opinion, for anyone; no prior knowledge needed.
I am now very much looking forward to seeing the movie with my class. It is my understanding that the movie picks up when Alice is now 17 years old and has no recollection of her original visit to Wonderland. She is rather disillusioned with life in Victorian England and when she spies the White Rabbit, she decides to follow him. What ensues is a reuniting with her original Wonderland creatures and another fairy tale adventure.
I think it might be a fun assignment if my students write their own “sequel” to the book before we see the movie. How do they envision the return of Alice to this fantastical world when she is on the cusp of adulthood? Then, after we see the movie, they can compare and contrast their ideas to those of Tim Burton. I think it may spark some fun class discussions, and give students a different way to connect with the text.
What about you? Do you plan to see the movie when it is released March 5? Do you have any preconceived notions of how the sequel should be told? I would love to hear your thoughts.