Monday, November 17, 2014

Beautiful Book #33

The Complete Alice by Lewis Carroll. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Candlewick, 2007.

If you were lucky like me, you found this slip-covered edition of Oxenbury's Alice at a remaindered book store on Bloor in 2009 and picked it up for a song. This is the Alice I read to my daughter and, together with Tenniel's and Moser's, this is what I think of when I think of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Carroll's text has remained clever, pun-ridden, maddening, and nonsensical in the nearly 150 years since these books were first published; as such, contemporary children often struggle with his style. Oxenbury's editions open a door to Carroll by showing an Alice who is young, contemporary, often bored, and always a bit confused. I read these books to my daughter when she was 6 and that seemed the perfect window for them: while she was still content to not know everything that was going on, before she became inured to the predictability of genre fiction, and at that precise point when she entered a more sophisticated and slippery understanding of language as word play. Furthermore, Oxenbury's illustrative world is familiar and comfortable to most children given the enormous popularity of books like We're Going on a Bear Hunt, Farmer Duck, 10 Little Fingers and 10 Little Toes, and The Three Little Wolves and the Big, Bad Pig, all of which (and more!) she illustrated.

Oxenbury's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland won the Kate Greenaway Medal when it was first published by Walker Books in 1999. It and Through the Looking Glass were published and sold separately as both hardcover and softcover editions, so even if you can't find the boxed set, you can still track down and enjoy these books.

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