Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland is 150 years old this year. the book was first published in 1865, 3 years after the famous boat trip during which Charles Lutwidge Dodgson rowed up the Isis with the three Liddell sisters Lorina, Alice and Edith. According to the history books, this legendary outing was the genesis of the Alice story which Dodgson later elaborated, making a hand copy for Alice Liddell and expanding further with the episodes featuring The Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter. The first print run of 2,000 copies, illustrated by John Teninel quickly sold out, and the book became an international publishing sensation. The book gained royal favour and Queen Victoria famously requested that Dodgson dedicate his next book to her. Little did she realise that book would be a dry academic text book. She was probably 'not amused'.
Translated into 174 languages with numerous film, theatre and musical adaptations, Alice is a classic that can be read, viewed and enjoyed by children of all ages, making this a great choice for a whole school book study in this celebratory year.
Different year groups will be able to access the story via different adaptations. Our Alice Pack of mixed editions will make a great display to pique children's interest in the classic story. For whole class or group reading, our multiple copy packs are available with good savings.
What do we know about Alice? Start by sharing existing knowledge about Alice in Wonderland. Where does this knowledge come from. You might use a Circle Map (see David Hyerle) to record what the children know. In the centre circle write 'Alice in Wonderland'. In the outer circle, have the children record what they already know. In the surrounding rectangle note the references (where this initial knowledge is gathered from e.g. reading the book, films, Disneyland etc). The map can be added to during the course of studying the book.
‘All in the Golden Afternoon’ Make a collection of photographs and excerpts from the from the prefatory poem to the 1865 edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to tell the story of Alice Liddell and her sisters and how the book came to be written.
Character development/ growing up Create a flow map showing Alice’s journey in Wonderland.
- What does she learn from her encounters with the strange creatures that she meets?
- Has Alice changed from the moment she falls down the rabbit hole to the trial where she upturns the deck of cards?
At the beginning of the story, Alice is bewildered and close to tears by the end she asserts herself confidently. ‘You’re nothing but a deck of cards’. Wonderland dissolves and Alice is returned to the real world.
Poems and Parodies
It was a common activity for Victorian children to learn moralising and improving poems by heart. When Alice is in Wonderland, she tries to recite the poems that she has been learning, but they come out wrong. For instance ‘How Doth the Busy Little Bee’ by Isaac Watts becomes ‘How Doth the Little Crocodile’. So, Carroll’s poems are parodies of the original.
How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!"
Similarly 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat', recited by The Mad Hatter is a parody of the well loved nursery rhyme 'The Star' by Jane and Ann Taylor, which would have been very well known to Victorian children.
Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!
Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!
Share the original poems and talk about the similarities and differences. Provide some context regarding the writing of the original poems. Which do the children prefer? Why?
Growth, size, perspective
Growing and shrinking is a frequent recurrence in Alice. Discussion points:
- How does Alice feel when she is too big and too small?
- Why does she eat the cake and drink from the bottle?
- Have you ever felt too small to do something that you really wanted to do?
- Have you ever felt too big?
- Would you rather be too big or too small?
Games and rules: There are lots of references to games in the book and Alice has to learn to rules in order to take part. These can seem bewildering and nonsensical. The caucus race has no clearly defined route, ending or winner, the croquet game is made impossible by the use of flamingos as mallets and hedgehogs as balls, the royal court is an unruly deck of cards.
'The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo… Alice soon came to the conclusion it was a very difficult game indeed’
Talk about games and rules. Encourage the children to think about this in relation to games they have played.
- Are rules important?
- Can you have a game without rules?
- Can you have a game without a winner?
- Can you have too many rules?
- Have they ever adjusted the rules of a game to make it more playable?
- What happens if we ignore the rules?
- Does it matter?
- Is cheating acceptable? If you win a game because you have cheated how do you feel? (Try not to lead the children to expected answers but do challenge their assumptions. The discussion will be much richer if it is authentic).
Wordplay, Doublets and Puns
Puns: 'When we were little...we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle - we used to call him Tortoise -''Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn't one?' Alice asked.'We called him Tortoise because he taught us.'
Joke books are full of puns. Good ones - and bad ones which make adults groan. Invite the children to tell you some jokes that they know. Sort them into two piles: those that use puns as a source of humour and those that don't. Ask the children if they can work out why you have sorted them in this way. Make a display and encourage the children to add their own punning jokes to the display. Add quotations from 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' to the display.
Doublets: change one word into another. For example to change Head into Tail
Change d to a d to make Heal
Change H to a t tomake Teal
Change a to an l to make Tell
Change e to a to make Tall
Change l to an i to make Tail
Illustrated versions and adaptations
The many illustrated and film adaptations of Alice make for an interesting comparative study. Take one character and look at the different interpretations. Here are some images of Alice taken from illustrated books by Helen Oxenbury, Anthony Browne, Emma Chichester Clark, Lisbeth Zwerger, and Mabel Lucie Atwell.
- How old does Alice look in each of these depictions?
- How would you describe her character?
- Do any of the images bear a resemblance to each other?
- Are some strikingly different?
- How do these differences affect the way we feel about the character?
- Which in your opinion most closely resemble the Alice as lewis Carroll describes her?
The film images below are from Tim Burton's 2010 adaptation, a 1972 version starring Fiona Fullerton as Alice and the 1951 animated Disney film.
How do these images compare to John Tenniel's original illustrations and to the photographs of Alice Liddell? (see above)
Try the same activity comparing The Red Queen or The Mad Hatter.
A double bubble thinking map will help children compare and contrast characters.
The Centenary: 50 Years On
Older students could look at the different images of Alice through the ages. The image below is an album jacket from a recording made to celebrate the centenary in 1965.
- Can you tell when this image was created?
- Are there any clues that help you date it (in addition to the obvious clue about the centenary?)
Share some of the pop-up versions of Alice, including Robert Sabuda and Grahame Baker-Smith's books.
Learn to make simple pop-ups. There are plenty of examples on Robert Sabuda's website.
In addition to the musical scores that accompany the Animated Disney and Tim Burton film versions of this story, a ballet score of Tchaikovsky’s music arranged by Carl Davis is also available. Listen to one or two tracks after reading the related chapter. Invite the children to discuss how the story has been interpreted by the composers. Which do they like and why?
Show the children the Royal Mail stamps that have been issued to celebrate the Anniversary.
Host a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party or Queen of Hearts Tea Party, the perfect end to a celebration of Alice''s Adventures in Wonderland. Perhaps this could be combined with a cake bake and sale to raise money for the school library? Or a hat making competition with a special edition of Alice or book tokens for the winning hats.
Please do post pictures on our blog. We'd love to see them.
For further art and science ideas based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, visit Wondermind Project: Tate Liverpool