We began by meeting Mark and Catherine Richards, old friends who lead the UK Lewis Carroll Society, and spent some time in and around Christ Church. I had fun looking for my room in Meadow Quad as it had overlooked the meadow and we all were absolutely gobsmacked at the massive lines waiting to get into the college. Huge tour groups of kids — hundreds and hundreds. Presumably all due to bits of the Harry Potter movies having been filmed there.
Finally we went in and walked about revisiting various places: the chapel, the door to the deanery (where I’d been with Catherine in 98), Carroll’s rooms at various points, the library, and the hall. I remembered so well the Buttery where we had before-dinner drinks. Here I am with the Richards in the hall (which was packed):
We then met up with Mark Davies who suggested we take a quick look at the “Imagine” Alice exhibit at the Town Hall. Some of the objects were on loan from the Richards’ own collection and then there were some lovely hangings by local artist Anne Griffiths “Alice’s House” and some other smaller works by her. I picked this lovely collection of small books at the bookstore.
Later Mark Davies took Tyner and me on a lovely bus ride to a spot in the country (while the Richards walked there) where we walked about a bit and then boarded an Oxford River Cruises boat (as we had the great luck that a group had chartered it one way and so it would have otherwise returned anyway empty) and headed back on the Thames to Oxford. Mark is an expert on Carroll, Alice, and the Thames and it was a glorious ride as he pointed out relevant points along the way. It was also just fascinating in terms of locks, canal boats (Mark pointed out the one he lives in), and more. We ended the day with a lovely dinner at a restaurant at Folly Bridge. I mark this day (a la Carroll) with a white stone.
Here are few rough photos I took (blurry as they were through the boat cover — it was a bit brisk!)
The ruins of a nunnery.
Godstow where Carroll first told the Alice story to the three Liddell girls.
One of many canal boats we saw.
A lock — is opened and closed by pushing and pulling as has been the case for centuries.
My great thanks to both Marks, Catherine, and Oxford River Cruises for a great day.
I’m off on a play/work jaunt to the UK later today.
First stop is Oxford to do some research for my new Alice project.* I’ve visited many times, the most memorable being a magical week in 1998 at Christ Church, celebrating Lewis Carroll’s centenary. Ever since I’ve avoided the inside of the college, wanting to keep pure my memories of that wonderful time: living in Meadow Quad, extraordinary meals at the Hall, champaign at sunset, late night port, the Deanery Garden, and much more. Now I do need to revisit places related to the Alice story and am fortunate that my return to the college will be with Mark and Catherine Richards of the Lewis Carroll Society who organized that 1998 event (and just may have provided that port.) And then something very special (thanks to Philip Pullman who put us in touch with each other): a boat journey with Mark Davies, author of Alice in Waterland: Lewis Carroll and the River Thames in Oxford.
Next will be London. I’m traveling with a young colleague who has never been to the UK before so I’ve been having fun thinking of my favorite things to do with her. Our plans include the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical, the Charles Dickens Museum, the Cheshire Cheese Pub, tea in Kensington Gardens, visiting the Richards and seeing their extraordinary Carroll collection, catching up with Joan Aiken’s daughter Lizza (whom I also visited last year), having dinner in the V & A’s gorgeous Morris rooms where their cafe is located. Oh and seeing stuff there (say this special exhibit on Beatrix Potter’s sketches of a beautiful waistcoat). This visit is a little bittersweet as I will not, for the first time, be going to Swain’s Lane in Highgate to see my cousin Lotte Passer who passed away earlier this year at the age of 99. (Do read this Guardian obituary — she was an extraordinary woman who was instrumental in getting my mother and her family out of Germany in 1939 as well as many others.)
Our final stop will be Edinburgh where I’ve never been. I’m very excited to see this city that is always so enthusiastically praised and because of the festivals that will all be going on. Thanks to the press office at the book festival I will be doing this and this and will be reporting back about both for sure.
I may or may not post while en route, otherwise, see you when I get back!
*As many who read this blog know, I’m obsessed with Alice in Wonderland. Every year I read it aloud; for a taste of last year’s students’ enthusiastic responses check out their book trailers. Providing context is key; I tell them a lot about Oxford and the life of the real Alice and her siblings, read some of the original poetry Carroll parodies, oversee an indoor croquet game, organize a caucus race (complete with confit-like prizes for all), and attempt a quadrille. Wanting to somewhat replicate this experience in book-form, I’m exploring doing so from the point of view of the Liddell children (among them the well-known Alice and the almost completely overlooked brother, Harry).
I love today’s Nerdy Book Club post, Melissa Williamson’s “Tales of Adoration $ Appreciation.” In it, Melissa describes her passion for Edgar Allen Poe and how she successfully communicated that passion to her students. While as teachers we want to encourage our students to find their own passions as readers I feel there is a place to also model and share ours with them just as Melissa did with her students. She used her own enthusiasm, comics, visuals, public speaking, and more to excite her own students with the work of this classical writer.
I do something similar with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That is, through my excitement and the activities I do, my students become as infatuated with that book as I am. I read aloud the book, stopping along the way for my class to try out a quadrille, play a bit of indoor croquet, and explore various logic and mathematical tricks along the way. And we always end with a project. For years it was a new kid-illustrated and annotated version, then we did toy theater puppet shows, and last year we did book trailers.
I encourage other teachers to do this as well. What may appear old and tired can come alive with the personal passion of a creative and talented teacher!
This year we read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland then we decided… that we were going to make a lovely, funny, amusing, interesting, and awesome Alice in Wonderland book trailer.
The point of the trailer was to tell people that Alice in Wonderland isn’t a scary book written for older kids. It’s a clever and funny story written for a nine year old girl. A great book for all ages.
From reading the book to writing this post, I have been thinking to myself, “This is the best project yet this year.”
The final step was to publish the trailers and so the children put them on their individual blogs along with a written overview of the project. Since these are private we also put them on a public blog and so you are encouraged to head over there where all the trailers are available along with excerpts from the children’s blog posts (a few of which are above). And for those of you who want just a taste, here’s a montage:
Next: My reflections on the project
I purposely have waited to mention the book being featured in this trailer project as I didn’t want to put any of you off. However, at this point I will reveal that it is (unsurprising to those who know me) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. As I have done for decades I read the annotated version aloud while my students followed along in my large collection of illustrated editions. They loved the different approaches to the art, the puns, the characters, dancing a quadrille, playing indoor croquet, and everything else we do as we read the book. Because I know how much fun the book is for them I challenged them to communicate that in a book trailer, especially to those who are dubious that it is still a book for children.
My wonderful colleague and tech specialist Ellen Nickles who has embraced the project did a lesson taking apart my model trailer to show different ways it could be created. We then asked the children to consider the mood they wanted to impart in their trailers and then to come up with some text, quotes, and images to use in it. They did a great job with this, getting the sense of the book in their text and choices of quotes from the book. The only problem for some was having too many quotes or just too much text. When this was pointed out they eagerly return to rethink this. As for the illustrations they could create their own or use John Tenniel’s as they are out of copyright.
After Ellen did a fabulous Imovie demo, they were off creating their trailer. I was amazed at how well they did this. Not only did they require minimal support, but the room was incredibly quiet — they were completely focused and engaged. Admittedly, they have been working on various tech projects all year and most of them had used Imovie before so they quickly adapted to the specific demands of this project tech-wise. Still, I think it was their complete engagement in the project that was what mattered more than their tech ability.
Students drafted versions of their trailers and then I looked them over with them and gave them suggestions (just as I would a piece of writing). They did, as was to be expected, get a bit carried away with effects, often putting way too many for such a short piece of video. But once I pointed this out to them, they were very open to bringing them down into a reasonable and less distracting number. Lastly, we introduced music. Ellen made several versions of my trailer with different kinds of music (from this royalty-free music site) so the children could easily see why some did not fit. With remarkable ease they selected their own and added it to their own trailers. Interestingly, I had expected them to go wild with this and have to suggest better choices, but that wasn’t the case at all. They made excellent choices, every single one of them!
Next: The finished trailers.
Yayoi Kusama is a fascinating artist who has done what looks like a unique and delightful illustrated version of Alice. I ordered it ages ago and was excited to learn today that I should be getting my copy in a few weeks. Here is a video that gives a taste of the book.
Today is Litworld’s World Read Aloud Day. As someone who has always read aloud to her class it is a celebration I can totally get behind. Right now, in preparation for Jack Gantos’ visit to our school in May, I’m reading aloud to my fourth grade class his Newbery winner Dead End in Norvelt. Earlier in the year I read aloud Carman Agra Deedy and Randall Wright’s The Cheshire Cheese Cat with great success so I’m delighted to see it as a finalist for the E. B. White Read Aloud Award. Here are a few favorites of the many posts I’ve done on this topic: