Did you know that Lewis Carroll, inventor of the Alice in Wonderland stories, was a mathematician who taught at Oxford and wrote eleven mathematical books? Of course, he’s better known as a lifelong storyteller, beginning with his twelve siblings and even entertaining Queen Victoria’s children with his tales! Let’s celebrate Carroll and his imaginary worlds in today's teatime.
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Lewis Carroll (1832–1898), born Charles Dodgson, was a man of many talents. He was a skilled artist and illustrator, a photographer, an inventor of riddles, a poet, a logician, a mathematician, and more. He was so fond of hiding riddles and puzzles in his stories that one person even speculated that he might be the infamous London serial killer, Jack the Ripper.
To start off our teatime, let’s take a look at the origins of Carroll’s most famous tales: the “Alice in Wonderland” stories. As Carroll explains in the following poem, the idea came from a golden afternoon when he and three of his friend’s children went on a boating trip from Oxford to Godstow. The children asked for a story to entertain them on the way.
From “All in the Golden Afternoon”
In fancy they pursue
The dream-child moving through a land
Of wonders wild and new,
In friendly chat with bird or beast—
And half believe it true.
Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:
Thus slowly, one by one,
Its quaint events were hammered out—
And now the tale is done,
And home we steer, a merry crew,
Beneath the setting sun.
To celebrate Carroll’s many accomplishments, today’s teatime will have a dual focus on art and poetry. So get your art supplies assembled and your words at the ready and let’s dive in!
Words at the Ready
Play a game of nonsense: If you know anything about Lewis Carroll, you’ve probably read “Jabberwocky.” Go read it again! In the poem, Carroll makes up all sorts of words and uses them to create legends, myths, and monsters.
Now, it’s your turn: write down as many nonsense words as you can think of and come up with definitions for them. Then use those words to inspire a poem! Use this post from Poetry Teatime to spark your ideas.
Once you’ve played around with words a while, take a look at One Fun Day with Lewis Carroll: A Celebration of Wordplay and a Girl Named Alice, by Kathleen Krull. This is a book about Lewis Carroll’s life, told using many of his wonderful invented words and creatures.
All About Art
Next up in our teatime agenda is some art appreciation. Let's start by taking a look at some of Lewis Carroll's own illustrations of the "Alice" stories.
Pay attention to the details you see: Carroll uses concrete poetry, color and black and white illustrations, poems, and words to tell Alice's tale!
Next up, let's take a look at illustrations of Alice in Wonderland by three very different artists. As you take a look at the pictures, ask yourself:
- What do you like about each style? Which one is your favorite?
- How do they capture different characters differently? How are they similar or different from your imagination?
Now that you've seen some examples, it's time to design your own illustrations of Alice in Wonderland! Here are some suggestions of scenes to illustrate:
- Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party
- The Queen of Hearts playing croquet with flamingoes
- The legend of the Jabberwocky
Now that we've explored the worlds of words and art, let's celebrate with a grand party worthy of Alice and her adventures!
Decorate like Mad
- Create your own hats: Design and decorate your own cardboard hats to rival the maddest of the Mad Hatter's hats! Instructions from Ikatbag.
- Card centerpiece: Decorate the table with playing cards, or, if you're feeling more daring, try this teapot-and-card sculpture from Pinterest.
- Paint the roses: Print out roses and color them red! Use red paint, and then try to paint them white again. Make it a competition and see who's fastest! Template from Super Coloring.
Treats to Taste and Drink
- Cucumber sandwiches: Of course, the Mad Hatter's Un-birthday Party would be incomplete without a cucumber sandwich or three! These easy "sandwiches" featured on Pinterest don't even require bread.
- Queen of Hearts Tomato Tarts: Use puff pastry, tomatoes, and your favorite mustard or sauce to make these simple and tasty treats even the Queen herself would approve of. Recipe from Alice's Adventure.
- Playing Card Sandwiches: If you've got some time to cut out shapes, then these playing card-shaped sandwiches from A Mummy Too are a tasty treat to add to your teatime! You can also make a simpler version using bell peppers for the suits, with this inspiration from ASDA Good Living.
- "Drink Me" and more: Serve your drinks in tiny (clean) jars and bottles, with labels like "drink me," "this one makes you smaller," and "this one makes you taller"! You can also try an Alice in Wonderland tea blend from Adagio teas.
Books and Poems to Enjoy
We'll wrap up today's celebration with some books and poems for you to enjoy. Some are even available for free online!
Songs from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (a beautiful illustrated songbook available for free from Archive.org)