I’ve Begun Reading “Alice In Wonderland” to Erin

03/25/2011 By Shawn Burns

I’m really bad at titling blog posts. I should just start numbering them.


A couple of nights ago, when Erin asked for a story (“No, two stories, daddy.”), instead of reaching for a French volume of Disney animal stories (Fox & Hound, Rescuers, Lion King etc…), which I usually “read” to her in the sense of telling her the story and pointing to the pictures, I plucked Alice In Wonderland from the shelf.

This edition uses old woodcuts as pictures, though not on every page. It isn’t the child-edit of the story, or even the Disney version of the story: it’s Lewis Carroll. I pulled it down on a whim, because as I was thinking about reading to Erin I remembered telling Emily over St. Patrick’s Day that I was going to introduce Erin to some classic Irish stories. I have a book of old folktales, buried somewhere in the garaged bins of paperbacks that have no shelf space in the house. I recalled this wish when I looked for a book in Erin’s room, and lighted upon Alice, and thought “This will do.” Also, it was not in the garage, so that made it perfect.

I didn’t know how Erin was going to handle having a story, mostly without pictures, read to her as she lay in bed. As it turns out, she isn’t great at it. However, the first night we read through the first chapter, right up to the point where Alice eats the piece of cake when she is very, very small and trying to get through the doorway to the garden beyond. During the reading Erin was crawling on me a bit, pulling on my ear (I felt truly ridiculous when she was doing this), trying to climb into the my lap and into the book, and peppering me with questions. The questions weren’t surprising, and sometimes I would answer: “What’s does it Longitude mean?” got a bit of a lecture about map reading. I asked Erin to let me read out loud, which meant no talking from her, and she accommodated me enough that we were at the end of the chapter without too much diversion.

When we reached the end, I asked Erin to tell me what had just happened. There’s a lot of narration, and monologues, in the first chapter, and it would have been hard to follow even without the fact that both the narrator and Alice herself sounded suspiciously like her father, but Erin manged to tell me about the key on the table, drinking the bottle, and eating the cake. That was good enough for me. After she told me that, I gave her a quick summary of the chapter, and then told her we would read the second chapter the next night. We would find out then, I promised, what happened to Alice when she ate the cake.

Now, Erin already knows what happened to Alice when she ate the cake: she’s seen the Disney version. It helps that she knows the character and basic plot, and that she has little touchstones like the cake and bottle, because there really is a lot of narration. And Alice herself, in her monologues, winds round and round the subject, sometimes speaking quite clearly about the decisions she has in front of her, but other times letting her mind wander. This isn’t the best thing to have happen when you are reading to a three year old. But, as I said, we got through it.

Last night we read chapter two. I again asked Erin to tell me what had just happened at the end of chapter one, and she told me again about the cake. I gave another quick summary, and then started into the chapter. This time Erin was a bit more cooperative (although again with the ear-pulling!), and we soon found ourselves in a conversation between a tiny Alice and a mouse, swimming along in an ocean of tears. The mouse ends the chapter by telling Alice he will explain why he hates cats and dogs so much, but first they must swim to shore. Once again, when we reached the end of the chapter, I asked Erin to tell me what had happened, and she gave me some details. I summarized the chapter for her again, and told her what was going to happen in the next chapter.

Erin is very interested in why the mouse hates cats and dogs. So she is looking forward to getting to chapter three tonight. I am looking forward to mastering all of the different voices I’m going to have to do in the chapters ahead.