Friday, February 19, 2010

All About Alice....

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.


  1. I think I'll go see this one. I hear it's going to be availabe in 3-D. If you can get a copy, you may want to check out a movie called Dreamchild. It was made back in the 1980's from a script by Dennis Potter. It tells the stoy of Alice Hargreaves who took a trip to the U.S. during the depression to attend a big Lewis Carroll celebration at a university. She ended up kind of a celebrity, doing commercials for the radio etc. There are flashback/subplots to her childhood and dream sequences featuring scenes from the books. The creatures were all done by the Muppet workshops. I'm not sure you can use the movie with your class, it's a little slow in parts, but I think you'll enjoy it.

  2. I probably won't see the movie, but I really want to read Alice I Have Been - it sounds wonderful!

  3. I definitely want to see the movie. One of my most anticipated this year.

  4. Ooh it reminds me of when Faruza Balk returning to Oz after the original Wizard of Oz film.

    I love the fact that you read so many different books to get a good feel for it. What a fabulous thing to do when reading classics.

    I think that is a great idea to get the students to write their own version of Alice's return to Wonderland.

  5. Thanks for such an excellent post on Alice. I'm bookmarking it so I can come back and "do" Alice at some future point.

    I've seen the previews for the movie and they did not appeal. Perhaps if a went with a young person I'd enjoy it more.

  6. Ever since I saw the trailer, way back in September-ish 09, I knew I had to watch it. Not only because I like the story, but also because I believe Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helana Bonham Carter will definitely bring something fresh to the table. I like it when movies stay true to the book, but I also like it when they put an original twist to it.

    Also, I'm so jealous, I bet you would've been such a cool English teacher to have if I had you when I was in high school. haha.

  7. I'm excited to see that you liked Alice I Have Been, because I've been curious if it was any good. I really liked the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but didn't like the cartoon (I find it creepy, so I'm sure I'll be creeped out even more by the new movie).

  8. Can I be in your class? I wish my high school English teacher was as dedicated as you!! I can't wait to hear what your class does and if you like the movie!! Thanks for the spotlight on this book and others like it!

  9. I'm looking forward to the movie and to Alice I Have Been. I loved AIW when I was young and have a beautifully illustrated edition of both books.

    I bet your students really love you!

  10. I decided to do the same thing - read Alice in Wonderland before the movie comes out!

    Here is my review

    It hadn't occured to me to read other ALice related books, I didn't know about any of the books you mention but they seem really good!

    Sometimes I think it must be good to be an english teacher

  11. I think that is a great assignment for your kids. That would be a lot of fun.

    I haven't read Alice In Wonderland in a long time and I probably need to do so again because my memory of it is not that great. I think I have to read it again so that I can have the more complete experience with Alice I Have Been.

  12. I swear, if my daughter weren't already in high school, I would move just so that she could have you for an English teacher!

  13. I can't wait to see the movie as I am a huge Tim Burton fan. However, I have not read the book so would rather do that first. What a great experience for your students to get to see the movie after reading the book. I hope they appreciate what a wonderful teacher you are.

  14. My new book club just picked this for our March read. We're sticking with our read the book then watch the movie theme. Really looking forward to finally getting to this one and I think I'll read Alice I Have Been as well since I've heard amazing things.


Related Posts with Thumbnails