Monthly Archives: March 2010

A Few More Alices

For those who can never get enough Alice, here are some non-Burton-Disney video versions.

Alice in Jelloland

Alice in Rexall-land

Betty Boop in Blunderland

Muppet Alice

Muppet Jabberwocky

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Exquisite Corpse Adventure 13: The “Lost” Episode

“Where are we?” whispered Nancy.

When are we?” Joe wondered.

M. T. Anderson takes readers into wonderful weirdness in the latest episode.

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The Latest from the Battle of the Kids’ Books

We are thrilled with Karen Macpherson’s article, “In this ‘March Madness,’ literally playing by the book.

And over at the Battle site we have an Open Ceremony that beats the Canadians’ hands-down (says somewhat prejudiced-me)!

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In the Classroom: A Smattering of Nonfiction

As a participant in  Share A Story- Shape a Future here I am with some surefire nonfiction hits for the classroom.

When it comes to independent reading, my students tend to prefer fiction; however, they do love compendiums, biographies of intriguing people, and other sorts of works of nonfiction. For example, a couple of years ago I had a student who avidly and exclusively read Horrible Histories.  I’d pick up a few when in the U.K. and he read those and every other one he and his family could find (some of which, I recall, they ordered directly from the U.K.).  These are so witty and visually engaging that I’m surprised that they are not better known in the U.S.

Another sort of nonfiction book that kids love are those that tell you how to do or make things. A recent one of this sort that was a great hit with my students was Show Off.  One of my 6th grade Book Bloggers wrote in her review, “This was the coolest book I have ever read! No, really. This book shows you how to do ‘absolutely everything, one step at a time.'”

I first met this cranky cat in Nick Bruel‘s Bad Kitty, a very clever ABC book.  A few years later the cat was back in  Bad Kitty Gets a Bath.   In this chapter book, Bruel, in a blunt and hysterically amusing manner, instructs young readers on how best to give cat a bath and slips in plenty of additional information about cats and their ways.  Enormously fun and informative.

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Filed under History, In the Classroom, Nonfiction

The Hunger Games’ Victory Tour

If you have not done so, do stop by the Battle of the Kids’ Books to see last year’s winner on her Victory Tour.  She’s got some important advice for this year’s contenders.  It is all done as a comic and we are pretty darn proud of it!

The Victory Tour Begins

The Hunger Games Visits the Rest of the 2010 Contenders

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Alice, Dodgson, and Algebra

There was the oddest op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times,  “Algebra in Wonderland” by Melanie Bayley.  She feels that Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), who was a math tutor at Oxford’s Christ Church College was with his famous story creating, “…a mishmash of satire directed at the advances taking place in Dodgson’s field.”  Having read the book perhaps 40 times (since 1990 I’ve read it aloud every year to my class) I know it incredibly well. I’ve also read a lot about what could be behind the story. While it makes complete sense that he was commenting on the real Alice’s life in many ways it doesn’t make sense to me that he was also doing so about all sorts of mathematical theories as Bayley posits.  Still I’ll be curious to see what other Carrollians who know way more than me think about this.

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Filed under Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Thoughts on Newbery: The Design Thorn

Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.  (Newbery Terms & Criteria)

Betsy Bird has just thrown down the gantlet with her spring 2010 Newbery/Caldecott predictions. One on her list is Deborah Wiles’ forthcoming Countdown, a book I’ve already raved about here.  But for Newbery?  Sadly, the current criteria, as quoted above, would make it difficult for me if I were on the committee.  As I read it, committee members cannot positively consider the design and art as an integral part of the book.  Yet it is that very design and art that makes Wiles’ book so brilliant for me.  Instead of telling us about the atmosphere of that time, Wiles shows us in an original and superb way.  And so I agree and disagree with Ed Spicer (commenting on Betsy’s post):

We don’t need to consider the design as design because it is an essential part of the content. The extra material provides the emotional soul of the book that provides young readers with the experience (both visual and textual) that firmly places readers smack dab in the middle of duck and cover days.

While I agree completely that it is “an essential part of the content” I don’t see how the above stated criteria would allow you to not “need to consider the design as design.”  This is the same thorn that bloodied me the year I was on the committee and considering Brian Selznick’s brilliant The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Certainly the Wiles’ book is different from Selznick’s.  For one, it has quite a bit text in the documentary material. But, in my opinion, much of the emotional punch is derived from the design and art. Randomly opening up the ARC I come to a double page spread (pgs, 106-107) all in shades of black, gray, and white. On the left is a photograph of a family in a bomb shelter with the following huge passionate letters below: “FAMILY IN THE SHELTER, SNUG, EQUIPPED , AND WELL ORGANIZED.”  On the opposite page is a “LIST OF MATERIALS YOU WILL NEED” and at the bottom, “THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR!”  (You can see some other examples of the documentary material on Wiles’ blog here.)  It IS about the design.  It IS about the (primary source) illustrations.  To not be allowed to recognize them when considering this wonderful book is like having to eliminate one of your senses when admiring a wonderful restaurant dish.  Yes, it tastes good, but I can’t smell it. Or yes, it tastes good, but I can’t see it.

So, yeah, the story stands alone.  And if it is recognized by the committee for that, great.  But what a shame too.  For it isn’t the text alone that makes this an amazing work.  Maybe the committee will figure out how to get around this thorn without bleeding.  I hope so.

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Tim in Underland

I saw the Tim Burton Alice yesterday in IMAX 3-D and I’m neither thrilled nor annoyed.  Despite the lavish look it was pretty meh for me, I’m afraid.  I went in knowing it wasn’t Carroll’s story and so that was fine. But the story it was didn’t hold together very well for me.  There is Alice missing her father, the adventurer, and then taking his place at the end. Good enough. But the business of her becoming engaged at the beginning in a Carrollian-absurd-way?  And was the Hatter meant to be a father-stand-in or fiance-stand-in or what?  Felt a bit cobbled together with some elaborate visuals, but (dare I say it?) a bit dull at times.

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Filed under Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, Neil Gaiman

The Nursery Harry

As I do every year,  I’m reading aloud Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  And as I also do every year, I showed my class The Nursery Alice, Lewis Carroll’s cringe-inducing attempt to adapt his story for “Children aged from Nought to Five.”  After regaling them with a few choice bits I told them I’d take a stab at The Nursery Harry and so, with apologies to Ms. Rowling, here’s the beginning:

ONCE upon a time, there was a little boy called Harry.  Would you like to hear his story?

Well, his parents had died. Isn’t that an awful thing?  And so he lived with his relatives, the Dursleys.

Would you like to know how they treated him?  Did they give him treats and remember his birthday?  Oh, not at all.  In fact, they were horrible to him.  They made him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. Yes, they did!  And kept him a secret from the neighbors. Can you imagine?

Some of my students are trying to do their own Nursery versions of beloved books.  Check out this very clever Nursery Golden Compass.

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Filed under Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Harry Potter, Lewis Carroll

A Few Fun Alice Tidbits

Some newer visitors may not realize that this blog is named after my favorite book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  I’ve been a Carrollian (yeah, that is what we obsessed call ourselves) for a long, long time.  I teach the book yearly (am reading it aloud to my class right now, it so happens.)  And so I am getting quite a kick out of the current Alice frenzy due to the Tim Burton film opening tomorrow.  My Lewis Carroll Society pals are getting quoted all over the place, Barnes & Noble’s got big displays of various editions, and now I see the 1903 film is getting some welcome attention.  So let me contribute to this mini-frenzy with a few tidbits of my own:

  • TextArc is described on their website as “a visual representation of a text — the entire text (twice!) on a single page. A funny combination of an index, concordance, and summary; it uses the viewer’s eyes to help undercover meaning.”  I should add their Alice is also mesmerizing and very, very pretty.
  • A man of his time, Lewis Carroll wrote letters.  Loads of them. And some of them are very clever. Say this one. (Click it for a larger and clearer image.)

  • As for film, there are all sorts of adaptations and variations.  Here’s favorite of mine, and possibly not as familiar as some:

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