‘Alice in Wonderland’: from quaint tea-tins to magic mushrooms

You see yourself and the world around you slightly warped in large mirrors; you follow hypnotic black-and-white spirals and signs asking you to turn corners; you are sucked into the picture of a lurid purple and turquoise room, with bottles of drugs and magic mushrooms strewn about and a huge white rabbit at the centre… Welcome to Alice in Wonderland at the British Library.

Before you drop this review because you don’t like Lewis Carroll’s strange story: well, me neither, yet I was fascinated by this exhibition of the first 150 years of its success, as shown in illustrated editions, related toys and much more.

Sir John Tenniel's illustration of Alice and the Cheshire Cat from the 1866 edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis CarrollIt all started with a few photographs which Oxford scholar C. L. Dodgson, better known under his pen-name Lewis Carroll, took of three little girls in the 1860’s and the beautiful handwritten and -illustrated adventure story which he wrote out for them at their request.

Thanks to the British Library, you can read the whole manuscript, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, online.

Soon, the author was collaborating closely with the illustrator John Tenniel on a publication, with the drawings and text wrapping around each other in a novel way, just like in the manuscript. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland came out in 1865.

© The British Library Board

A flood of editions with pictures by other artists followed, while publishing houses abroad came up with translations. In a caricature from Punch, you see the original characters surveying a whole row of other ‘Alices’ with scorn!

Carroll himself wrote a simplified version for children under five, The Nursery ‘Alice’ (1890) and of course a sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871). You can borrow many titles related to Through the Looking Glass as well as the facsimile of The Nursery ‘Alice’ from the children’s fiction collection at the Newsam Library.

The metamorphoses of the ‘Alice’ character reveal the spirit of their times or the inner world of the artist: neat sailor-style dress or Brownie costume; hair-band or bobbed cut; little girl or teenager; blond or dark or ginger hair; wonder or apprehension on her features… Some labyrinthine dream scenes are whimsical, others outright satirical, others deeply unsettling.

An illustration of Alice with the White Rabbit from an illustrated edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Leonard WeisgardThere are also an artists’ book with abstract paintings and large prints of an Alice episode by Salvador Dalí. I found the multi-layered, rainbow-coloured Alice scenes by Leonard Weisgard (1949) particularly appealing.

Marvelling at the spin-off merchandise – games and toys, tea-tins and tea-cups – I was surprised to learn that it goes back to the 19th century and indeed to Lewis Carroll himself.

Long before the animated Walt Disney film, a silent feature already tried to visualise the fantastical incidents underground. The British Library has even mustered up a computer game and a rock song… from the aptly named album Surrealistic Pillow (1967)!

© The Estate of Leonard Weisgard

Here is a gem for lovers of libraries: The original handwritten booklet had been sold to the United States by the heirs of the real-life ‘Alice’, but was given back to the United Kingdom as a thank-you for the war effort against fascism. It was so important that it was handed over by the director of the Library of Congress to the Archbishop of Canterbury at the British Library.

Illustrated music cover of ‘The Wonderland Quadrilles…for Pianoforte’ composed by Charles Marriott in 1872, showing scenes from Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandAlice in Wonderland is free of charge and open until April 17th; I suggest you go soon, because it is packed even now – and because it is fun!

The Newsam Library & Archives held their own little exhibition of ‘Alices’ a few years ago. You can find all our titles related to Alice by Lewis Carroll in the library catalogue. This includes one with illustrations by Mervyn Peake, as shown in the British Library exhibition.

We also hold a book on the illustrators of the Alice stories. It struck me that many of the illustrators of Alice in Wonderland, going back into the 19th century, were women.

© The British Library

Finally, if you are wondering how you could use the Alice stories in the classroom, there are resources for various subjects at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, which holds a centenary exhibition at the same time: click here for the Lewis Carroll Guide for Educators.

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An Advent Calendar highlighting our Special Collections – just for you!

Although Advent officially began on 29th November this year, I am publishing the Special Collections Advent calendar today in the run up to Christmas.   Over the next 25 days, you get some information about the historical materials held in the Newsam Library.  You may even want to watch some of the videos containing archival film footage.   Start counting by clicking on the image and then clicking on each box every day – but whatever you do, don’t miss Christmas Day as there’s a real treat in store for you!

Advent Calendar

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The Other Dewey

I know…. librarians are supposed to get excited about Melvil Dewey, the American educator and inventor of the Dewey Decimal system of library classification.  No disrepect to Melvil, but I am more intrigued these days with the other Dewey …. John.  On November 27th at History Libraries and Research Open Day at Senate House Library, Nazlin Bhimani and I will be celebrating the work of John Dewey as well as other American educators.

John Dewey (1859-1952), the American educator, philosopher and psychologist, is a bit of a hero to me because his ideas and words travel out of the classroom and into practical practice over 100 years after he wrote them. Dewey was a pragmatist who believed that learning to think is the beginning of learning. He also believed a lot of learning happened outside school. For us librarians supporting learning out of the classroom, Dewey’s observation in How We Think can be especially relevant:How we think

Thinking begins in what may fairly enough be called a forked-road situation, a situation which is ambiguous, which presents a dilemma, which proposes alternatives …. In the suspense of uncertainty, we metaphorically climb a tree: we try to find some standpoint from which we may survey additional facts and, getting a more commanding view of the situation, may decide how the facts stand related to one another ( 1910, p.11).

I may be taking Dewey out of context, but I’d like to apply his metaphor about climbing a tree to get a better view to what happens when students are confronted with a forest of information when they are searching.  Too often, I see students bewildered and confused about the different pathways to information. This image of a learner climbing a tree, getting a lay of the land, possibly a breather, comparing and making clearer choices about sources, is advice we could all follow. Thanks, Dewey. The next time a library user encounters a ‘forked-road situation’, I’ll  advise him/her to metaphorically climb a tree.

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Molesworth or Nicolas: schoolboy humour English or French style

There are two books in the Education in Literature Collection which are over sixty years old but still provide amusement. Both were originally written for a young audience but they can still be appreciated by adults. They are examples of books which present a child’s view of the world – quite a radical idea at the time.

Down with Skool! purports to be written by its central character Nigel Molesworth. It describes his life at the horrible prep school St Custards where he has to deal with Masters who are fond of the ‘kane’. Molesworth writes on school food, lessons, his fellow pupils and ‘gurls’. Humour arises from the terrible spelling, erratic capitalisation and schoolboy slang . In reality this book and several sequels were written by Geoffrey Willans (1911-1958 ) with illustrations by Ronald Searle (1920 – 2011).


Nicholas is a translation by Anthea Bell of a book first published in French by Rene Goscinny (1926-1977) in 1960 as Le Petit Nicolas. The illustrations are by Jean –Jacques Sempe (1932- ). It is the first in a series of books portraying a charming but idealized 1950s childhood. The humour is gentler and perhaps aimed at a younger audience than Down with Skool. There is also a DVD available of the 2009 film  Petit Nicolas.

NicolasLe petit nicolas

Both books benefit greatly from the quality of their illustrations. Ronald Searle was already well known as the creator of St Trinian’s School. Indeed Nigel Molesworth could be seen as a brother of one of the school girls of St Trinian’s. Sempe drew on his own childhood influences and memories to illustrate ‘Le Petit Nicolas’.

I can see a modern 8 or 9 year old enjoying reading Down with Skool! for himself. His father or grandfather might enjoy it for its nostalgia value. However I think that Nicholas would be great for reading aloud to younger children. Each short chapter is about a situation which is still recognisable today- The School Photograph or the Day of the Inspectors Visit.’ Somehow  gentle mayhem is the result when Nicholas is around.’

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Stuck on researching methods? Try ‘Sage Research Methods Online’

Sage Research Methods Online (SRMO) is an online resource that provides information and instruction on research methods in the health and social sciences. It is accessible by from the list of databases and by authenticating with your UCL username and password if you are working from outside the Institute.

SRMO is designed to answer methods questions that arise during the various stages in the research process, including the literature search, review, research design, data collection, analysis, and write up. This online resource gathers together information contained in 6 dictionaries, 5 encyclopaedias, 148 journal articles, 26 videos, and 632 books (including the 164 Little Green Books and 48 Little Blue Books which have only been available in print until now). The Little Green Books and the Little Blue Books focus on quantitative and qualitative research methods which have only been available in print until now).

The resource has a sophisticated visual search tool, the “Methods Map”, which shows relationships between various terms, methodologies and the experts in the different disciplines. These display the relationships between the terms and related content. You can use Boolean logic (AND, OR and NOT) to combine search terms, add synonyms and exclude content on SRMO. The database also allows you to save your results in the “Methods Lists” and share them on social media. Further, references can be downloaded using different bibliographic software such as EndNote and Zotero.

To make the most of this resource, you are advised to watch the instructional videos at http://srmo.sagepub.com/page/tips-and-tutorials/tutorials#srm_overview.

You may also want to look at the LibGuide produced by Sage at http://sagepub.libguides.com/researchmethods/education

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American Educationalists in the Newsam Library’s Special Collections

The theme for this year’s History Libraries and Research Open Day at Senate House Library on November 27th is ‘The American Trail’.  I’ve been digging around the Special Collections and highlight some of the ‘Americana’ in the IOE Library’s Special Collections below:

The two most eminent American educators represented in the Newsam Library are John Dewey (1859-1952) and Jerome Bruner (b. 1915 – ) Both men had a profound influence on British education and both authors represent 20th century experimentation in education. We celebrated Bruner’s 100th birthday last month and I wrote about his contribution to the development of curriculum theory in reference to the social studies curriculum MACOS (see: http://libguides.ioe.ac.uk/macos) in my last post here. This post highlights some of the other ‘Americana’ in the UCL Institute of Education Library’s Special Collections. Continue reading

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The tiger who came out of the page

Cover of 'The tiger who came to tea'

Source: Wikipedia

For you, the moment of recognition might be the Tiger who came to tea and peacefully took a seat at your mum’s kitchen table; or Aslan, the giant benign lion, jumping out of the pages of the Chronicles of Narnia; or the fierce tiger of the Jungle book literally charging at you out of a pop-up version crafted by Matthew Reinhart.

For me, the thrill of childhood memories came with the Big Bad Wolf and Red Riding Hood in an old collection of Grimms’ fairy tales, in the original German and in Gothic font, since such a one was passed down to me by my mother.

The exhibition Animal tales at the British Library will enchant every visitor. It is on until the end of October, presented in the foyer, which is freely accessible to the public.

First of all, there are showcases with plenty of beautifully illustrated books from almost five centuries of printed literature, on the common theme of animals. If you are not specifically interested in fauna, I promise you that the variety of the titles and the design of the objects will gain your favour.

Credit: Tony Antoniou

Credit: Tony Antoniou

There are stories by Aesop and Ovid, poems by Ted Hughes and T. S. Eliot, novels by Franz Kafka and Herman Melville – Moby Dick with Rockwell Kent’s striking wood-cut-like drawings of the whale. You can see Where the wild things are with a furry cover and Anansi with detachable shadow puppets by Ronald King.

Then, there are some prints: one wall is adorned with an illustrated animal poem by Hughes, from a limited edition which Michael Morpurgo sold in order to raise funds for city farms. Each artistic specimen is accompanied by a short explanation of the animal motif.

Moreover, there are recordings of poetry readings, some by the authors themselves, and a magical soundscape surrounding the visual display. The birds crying and whales calling offer a spot of tranquillity in the midst of the very busy British Library and the very busy big city. For children, there are activity sheets with a focus on creativity and piles of picture books to browse.

Title page of 'Fabulous histories' by Mrs Trimmer (1786)

Source: Wikipedia

If you are keen on the history of education, you will find an onomatopoetic alphabet by John Amos Comenius: “The Duck quacketh: k – k – k … The Serpent hisseth: s – s – s”, with the animals shown next to the letters. Also represented is the prolific 18th woman author Mrs Trimmer, who drew from the experience of teaching her own twelve children.

You might have expected the Newsam Library & Archives to hold copies of classical children’s books in our Curriculum Resources collection, and indeed, you can click through here from the titles to lists of records; but did you know that we have old editions of Trimmer, going back to 1780, and of Comenius, going back to 1640, in our Special Collections? Moreover, we deal with the techniques and history of illustrations for children’s books… but more of this later!

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