Earlier this week, I hosted a book club at Cathedral Book and Gift for 34 readers aged 7-15. I was shocked by the number of registrations for this particular club because our book was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a book which many find to be quite strange.
During my years at Hillsdale College, I studied at the University of Oxford where Alice is beloved. In fact, while I was a student at Keble College, I worked in the Oxford University Shop where we sold Alice in Wonderland themed china and silk scarves. I read the story years ago and was uninspired to read it again. I knew that this was much more than a weird dream sequence, but I had never really tried to understand it. Until, that is, the older kids in our book club society begged for it to be one of our summer clubs. I was surprised by the number of votes Alice garnered, and decided that my time in Oxford had been preparing me for this kind of book club. It was time to take Alice seriously and see what we could do with it.
As I was agonizing over my book club prep, one of the moms joked that our two-hour book club could start with me saying just one thing: “This is why we don’t do drugs!” and then I could send the kids out to play. We laughed heartily at that joke because, once the modern literature critics raped this imaginative fantasy story, there wasn’t much else left to say about Alice and her Wonderland. Praise God that I have friends who love the Victorians as much as I do, and who could point me to some great commentary and research on Carroll, his friendship with George MacDonald, and good articles about the good things at work in Wonderland.
When I did a Google search for commentary on Alice and book clubs related to Alice, most of what I found was awful. Thanks to modern literature professors, the drug culture of the 1960s, and the post-Christian world we live in, most see Alice as being a metaphor for deviant behavior and dark culture. In fact, I even read articles about how Carroll had an “unhealthy” interest in little girls. What a shame that a good man without children cannot have an uncle-like relationship with the children of his friends without us moderns assuming disordered interests.
The good news is that this is all bunk. Carroll was eccentric, but he was a devout Christian and a good friend of the “godfather of fairy tales,” George MacDonald. Once I knew that, I was able to banish my modern prejudices and look at Alice the way a six-year-old might see her. Much like the way Tending the Heart of Virtue asks us to view Pinocchio as a child would, I was able to laugh at Alice’s adventures because they remind me of the way in which my seven year old tells stories. In the healthy and vibrant imagination of a young child raised on fairy tales, babies can turn into pigs without it meaning anything. And Cheshire cats can vanish and reappear at will. Because that is how a young and wholesome imagination works. Maybe this is part of what Christ meant when He told us to let the little children come to Him… because they could love the mystery surrounding Him without having to psychoanalyze it.
So, my fears at ease, I was now left with the challenge of affecting a one-room schoolhouse-style book club with almost three dozen kids, in a hot church attic, without many props. It was still a daunting task. We had fun, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Next time, we will have smaller clubs or tighter age groupings. That said, the Lord did bless us abundantly, and I think that all of us got something good out of the experience.
At the end of the article you will find the plan I used for our club. Like any good one-room schoolhouse teacher, I made good use of my big kids. After our opening activities, a comparison of Alice and The Princess and the Goblin (which we did last year as a book club) and some “Eat Me’s” and “Drinks Me’s,” I had the big kids divide themselves into two groups (probably the hardest thing we did all day – teens have their own quirky social dynamics!). Then, I had the younger kids attach themselves to whichever big kids they were most comfortable with. With the help of another mama, we separated into two rooms to have some conversation and to prepare a skit. Each group chose a scene they wanted to re-enact, and that proved to be a fun way to talk about the book.
The puns did not work. I am not sure why… perhaps too many kids? Or maybe too distracted by the skits? Or maybe the teens were just too self-conscious? Either way, the pun contest did not happen.
Take a peak! Steal anything that works!
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
- ACTION: Begin with teaching everyone to curtsey and bow. Proper manners, now!
- QUESTION: Does anyone have any ideas why Alice is so focused on good manners?
- TALK: Tell about the friendship of Lewis Carroll and George MacDonald.
- QUESTION: Ask if this story reminds anyone of The Princess and the Goblin. If so, how?
- TEA PARTY: Invite the kids to eat, and to take coloring sheets if they want them.
- TEA PARTY CONVERSATION:
- Do you like the characters?
- Would you like to meet them?
- What do you think of Alice?
- Can you compare Alice to Dorothy or Irene?
- What do you think of the choices Alice makes?
- What theories do you have about why the Cheshire Cat disappears? (Ask if they know what a Black Hole is.)
- SMALL GROUP: Which small group can come up with the most or best puns or examples of word play in the book
- RECITE: Lobster Quadrille (Ask if it reminds them of any modern stories – Dr. Seuss)