Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Alice, again

I never get tired of teaching Alice in Wonderland and its companion novel, Through the Looking-Glass. (Maybe you guessed that from the title. And no, the links aren't definitive, just random...) Today was our third day, in the Intro to Children's Lit class, on the Alice books, and we have one more. Every time it's different. This time, no one is really complaining about Alice herself, for example, though there was a time when my students seemed to find her annoying. Now I'm wondering if it had anything to do with me. That is, I was parenting a seven-year-old (or just out of that stage, I think) when my students found seven-year-old Alice annoying. Did I unconsciously lead them to the more annoying aspects of her personality?

I don't think so, but it could be. It is true, though, that I focus on different aspects of the book(s) depending on my own interests at the time. I used to talk a lot about the food and eating scenes. Why doesn't Alice really get to eat? She ingests transformative food throughout the first book, but is denied the food she wants (tea, tarts); in the second book, she's offered food that doesn't satisfy--a biscuit when she's thirsty, hay when she's hungry, and then a feast that she can't eat because she's been introduced to it. There's also the promise of "jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never jam today." Why is food such a source of frustration? Two years ago I decided it was because it is, for so many kids. When you don't get to choose your own meals, you frequently don't get what you want. There are critical speculations about eating disorders and such (I'd link, but the critical literature seems to be by subscription only--so trust me), but I think it may be simpler than that.

Still, today it was all about games and play for me, not food at all. The games in the Alice books are so annoying: the rules keep changing, there are no winners (or maybe everybody wins, as in the Caucus Race), and they just end when they end. But again, how much is this like children's real experience? Rules are arbitrary, after all, and they often do change from game to game and day to day; winning may be less important than just playing (oh, I'm sure there are lots of links here, but I'm running out of time); and (case in point) games often end just because it's time for lunch, not because you're finished.

And it's time for lunch, so I'll leave this, unfinished though it is.

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