Saturday, 28 November 2015

150 Years of Alice in Wonderland - Review - The Looking-Glass Girl by Cathy Cassidy

Continuing our celebration of the 150th Anniversary since Alice in Wonderland was released, Nicki reviews Cathy Cassidy's Wonderland Inspired new book...

Some of the themes familiar from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ take on a nightmarish tone in Cathy Cassidy’s ‘The Looking-Glass Girl,’ written in celebration of 150 years of Lewis Carroll’s timeless classic.

Cathy Cassidy is one of our best-loved authors, cherished for her family stories of friendship and light teen romantic fiction. So it’s a departure and a move into new territory that ‘The Looking-Glass Girl’ takes on a thriller tone right from the start.

Alice has been increasingly isolated since her best-friends from primary have moved into a much ‘cooler’ set at secondary school. So when she gets invited to a sleepover with them she is not sure whether to be pleased or concerned – a feeling many girls of this age will easily relate to.

What does the night have in store? Is there some other motivation for inviting her along? What will they being doing and will she be ‘cool’ and grown-up enough?

From when she arrives at the Wonderland-themed party, everything from costumes and the painted faces of the other guests is unsettling. The drink is served in a teapot that Alice suspects is spiked with alcohol, Alice knows she is out of her depth, but desperate to be included.

She has to tread as carefully as her namesake to work out friend from foe, but it all goes horribly wrong.

We know from the opening of the story Alice will end up in a coma, with everyone lying and covering up exactly what went on.

The tension is cranked up from unexpected arrivals at the party and a few games where Alice feels she is less of a guest, more of bait.

The arrival of a boy Alice likes ratchets up the tension as she can see clearly that one of the other girls likes him too . . .

Taut plotting means the story of what actually happened that night and what is really going on among Alice’s ‘friends’ is revealed only slowly, partly through confessions at her hospital bedside and her nightmarish dreams as she tries to find her way back from unconsciousness to the real world.

Tweens and early teens will love this fresh tale with more than a hint of threat and danger in amongst this tale of friendship and early romance. A total triumph and really true to the original tale, while being really fresh and different.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Alice 150 Anniversary – Alice Tea Party Food

One thing we all know is that food features heavily Wonderland, and that it has magical properties, therefore if you are celebrating Alice’s 150th anniversary at home or in the classroom then food is a key ingredients.

Of course there is the usual and obvious choices; tea,  jam tarts, mushrooms sweets and cakes with  'Eat Me' iced on top, but here are a few easy party foods that can be made easily with children.



So easy to do, buy some rolls, fill them with which ever filling you like, place on a plate twisting around like a caterpillar and use grapes and carrot sticks to make the features.

Suit Sandwiches

Cut with cookie cutters or by hand sliced bread into the shape of the playing card suits, then cover in jam for hearts and diamonds, and either darker jam or Marmite or chocolate spread for spades and clubs. Keep open and they look fantastic.


Mad Hatter's Hats

What you Need:
Jaffa Cakes
Mini Chocolate Rolls
Melted chocolate
Sweet shoe laces

Cut a top off the Chocolate mini-roll, dip it into the melted chocolate and then stick to the top of the Jaffa Cake.  Wait until cooled then cut and wrap the shoe lace around the base of the Choclate Roll like a hat-band.

Playing Card Shortbread

What you Need:
Your favourite shortbread/biscuit recipe.
Apricot Jam
White roll on fondant icing
Red icing pen

Make your favourite shortbread/biscuit recipe cut into rectangles, bake and cool. Cut the icing into rectangles the same size as the biscuits, and fix to the top with apricot jam. Decorate with the cake pen to look like a playing card.

Mock-Turtle Tea Cakes

What You Need
Tea Cakes (the chocolate kind)
Roll out fondant icing in two colours
Icing Pen
Gingerbread Man Cutter

Roll out your fondant icing. Ice the top of the tea-cakes with one colour (for the shell) and trim the edges. Roll out the other colour icing (for the body) and cut out a gingerbread-man shape with an appropriate sized cutter. place the icing-topped tea cake on the gingerbread man cut out, use jam for glue. Decorate the shell with sweets, and use icing pens to make the features of the mock-turtle's face. DON'T Forget this is MOCK-Turtle, so also give me ears!

For Drink

Serve tea or warm squash out of a tea pot in cups and saucers or use bottles labelled, ‘Drink Me'.

'it’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles.’
The Mad-Hatter 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

150 Years of Alice in Wonderland - Alice inspired Craft for the Classroom or a Alice Tea Party

This year marks the 150th Anniversary since the publication of Lewis Caroll's 'Alice in Wonderland.' The story of Alice who ventures further and further in a world of wonderland experiencing curiouser and curiouser animals and adventures.

Despite the book not being an instant hit with critiques, receiving some less than favourable reviews when first published and being renegaded into the genre of ‘Literary Nonsense,’ Alice and the Wonderland residents have risen to become some of most loved stories and characters in children’s books, and has fascinated generations of children (and adults) ever since.

At Space on the Bookshelf we thought very hard about how to celebrate the anniversary, and decided that we would treat you to a series of celebratory posts. But today we’ll kick off with some ideas to help you have your own Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with crafts suitable for home or the classroom.

Alice in Wonderland Craft 1 #Playing Card People 

What you’ll Need

  • Old Playing Card
  • White card
  • Pipe Cleaners (x4)
  • Hole Punch
  • Scissors
  • Coloured Pencils / Pens
  • Split Pin (x1)
  • Plasticine (optional)

To Make

  1. Hole punch five holes in the card (as pictured)
  2. Cut out a round head shape with a 2cm long neck. Hole punch neck and use split pin to attach to card.
  3. Take pipe cleaners put through remaining holes and twist together to make limbs, (see picture) use plasticine to make hands and feet if you wish you card-people to be able to stand up.

Alice in Wonderland Craft 2 #disappearing Cheshire Cat Card

What you’ll Need

  • A4 Black Card
  • White Paper
  • Woggly Eyes
  • Cheshire Cat Paper i.e. Craft Paper / Wrapping Paper/ Wall Paper
  • Scissors
  • Black Marker Pen/Felt Tip Pen
  • Glue

To Make

  1. Cut A4 in half to create to A5 pieces. Fold the paper in half to make a landscape card.
  2. Cut out cat face out of your chosen Cheshire Cat paper.  For Template e-mail
  3. Cut out two grins out of white paper and draw vertical lines with black pen for teeth. .  For Template e-mail
  4. Glue Cheshire cat face on to front of card, then glue on woggly eyes and one of the grins.
  5. Open up the card and glue the second grin on the inside in the same place that it is on the front. When you open the card it looks like the Cheshire has disappeared all but her grin!

Alice in Wonderland Craft 2 # Playing Card Bunting

What you’ll Need

  • Old Pack of Playing Cards 
  • Hole Punch 
  • String / twine / ribbon 

To Make

  1. Hole punch each playing card twice on the top - see photo. 
  2. Tread the ribbon through the card as pictured. 
  3. Hand the bunting!

Hope you enjoy the crafts and come back for more Alice in Wonderland features!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Happy Un-Birthday Alice – 150 Years of Wonderland and Counting! Reviews of Alice in Wonderland

The 26th of November see’s the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen-name, Lewis Carroll. To celebrate Space on the Bookshelf are having a Wonderland Week, (and as we all be mad here, it’s not what you’d call an actual week, but when you know Time personally he doesn’t take offence!).

In the next few day’s our posts will include idea’s so you can run your own Un-Birthday Party with wonderland crafts and foods, and a review of Cathy Cassidy’s ‘Looking-Glass Girl. But to start off we are going to do a 3D review of Alice in Wonderland, (or as much as we can, with an editor and author interview quite out of the question) with a review by 11 year old Bea an adults review (by me) but with a difference. So, without further ado, hold your breath and down the rabbit hole we go…

Reviews, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Children’s Review by Bea aged 11

Two glowing eyes, one large smile and a very cheeky attitude it’s the Cheshire cat. Join Alice and the strange animals of wonderland as she takes a mysterious stroll trying to find her way home to a normal life. Through her magical journey Alice meets evil head chopping queens, unusual talking animals and a rabbit that’s late for an important festival. This adventure starts by a large fall through a ginormous rabbit hole but will it finish the way Alice wants it to with a blanket and a family next to a warm fire or will Alice be trapped with nasty queens and curious creatures. I like this book as its funny and has lots of cliff hangers, it is really well written and it’s just and amazing book that you will never forget. I recommend this book as I think you will enjoy it, if you like mysterious places and creatures, also this book makes you feel like you’re in the adventure and it helps you to learn the creatures’ personalities. Once you’ve picked up you can’t put it down!!!

Adults Review

It came as a surprise to me when I realised that I had never actually read Alice in Wonderland, as I know the story so well. Like many of my generation, I was practically weaned on tales of curious Alice and the mad residents of Wonderland; I played a ducked-billed platypus in a school production as a teenager, and have watched all manner of televised adaptations, from the well-known Disney animation to Tim Burton’s live action 2010 feast of a movie, and every adaption in-between (who can forget Ben Kinsley’s caterpillar?). My children have been on Alice themed floats on Village Fetes, and I’ve read about the neuroses and psychoses of the Wonderland residents in Laura James ‘Tigger on the Couch’, learning that The Queen of Hearts is suffering from Acquired Situational Narcissism.

Also as an adult, and having written a dissertation on ‘The Freudian Impact on The Loss of Innocence in Artists Representations of Children’, I’m also aware of the more sinister associations and misuses of the phase ‘Wonderland.’ So when I came to reviewing the book for this post, it became something even deeper, it became a study into reviewing a book when you already have so many preconceptions of the plot and characters. The question was in my mind, how much will all this baggage erode the enjoyment of reading the book?

Starting the book was the hardest, (as when I opened my copy, out fell some of the research from my dissertation which was disconcerting), but then sitting down and letting my mind be free to focus on the words Lewis wrote opposed to paying heed to the images in my mind was tricky. I found that comparing the text to all of the adaptations and re-writes I had seen and read was near on impossible, and was seriously impleading the reading experience. Getting past this was difficult and I struggled, taking a hideously long time to get through chapter one, but then half way through the second chapter all these struggled dissolved, lost in a Pool of Tears, when I realised that the story I know is just a mere duplication, a caricature of the original. As soon as I settled down and allowed myself to switch off my brain and just concentrate on the book, a strange thing happened; I began to enjoy the story, which is strange as I have never actually liked Alice or any of the Wonderland stories before. 

It turn out Alice, who comes out as rather pretentious and un-likable in the screen adaptations, is actually rather endearing. Yes, she is precocious BUT she is also naive and many of the clever things she think she knows, she doesn’t at all; she is just a curious child with a yearning for adventure.

“When I used to read fairy-tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am I the middle of one! There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought!”

A child with a curious nature, and a willingness to eat things fully knowing that the consequence will be height altering, and to converse with anthropomorphic creatures with the least bit of concern.

“I almost wish I hadn't gone down the rabbit-hole-and yet-and yet-it’s rather curious, you know, his sort of life! I wonder what can have happened to me!”

Another welcome surprise was that despite Alice seemingly meandering around Wonderland from one adventure to the other, the book is actually fast passed and that much of the adventure is instigated by Alice herself rather than her just happening upon it. Like when she decides she wants to visit the beautiful walled garden and making it her own mission to realise that goal.

The Wonderland inhabitants also had be surprised, the lack of Tweedledum and Tweedledee for example, (who don’t appear until Alice goes Through the Looking-Glass), the leniency of the hen-pecked King of Hearts, or the Cheshire Cat who may be the most sane Wonderlander there is. Then there are the characters that I’d never heard of, like The Duchess who arguably features as much or even more than the more well-known charters like The Mad Hatter or The Cheshire Cat. I adored the Mock-Turtle and the Gryphon, especially their humorous quirky logic.

“We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

With reading and reviewing this book, I discovered that many things, about the book, not least the fact that I actually enjoyed it, and found it an amusing and fascinating journey into a truly unique world, but also about myself and my traits at writing books off by judging them by their imitations, and adaptations. What I now know, is that I need to read a book before formulating an opinion about it, and that I need to embrace my inner child, and forget all of the information that I already know about a story to really appreciate it and have an enjoyable reading experience.

Friday, 13 November 2015

A Song for Ella Grey - review

David Almond's dramatic retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in 'A Song for Ella Grey' is an updated story of doomed love that serves as a wonderful showcase for his luminous, lyrical writing.

You don't need to be familiar with the original story to know from the start that everything is going to end badly as the prose sweeps with sadness.

The bitter-sweet tale is told by Claire, best friend of over-protected and dreamy Ella. When Ella meets musician, Orpheus, capable of charming not just the birds and the beasts with his magical music, but even the rocks and the sea, Claire knows her place in Ella's life has been moved to the sidelines.

Will Claire watch the blooming of a beautiful relationship in the coming together of ethereal Ella, with her trusting poet's soul, and the wandering Orpheus? They instantly feel they were meant to be together and that love will conquer all and Claire can only look on at the whirlwind and find a role in helping the couple. But there is a palpable sense of foreboding throughout - that the love is too perfect to last.

The most wondrously created scenes are of the 'wedding' party, where a group of kids nearing the end of their school days camp wild on a beach. As more and more of their friends arrive to re-create Greece in Northumberland, there are adders in the sand and jealousy at the heart of the party that Ella and Orpheus have found what everyone else is seeking - a magical bond with someone they can call true love.

The book is faithful to the original myth, but by making modern teenagers walk in the shoes of mythical characters gives the story an added poignancy as they try to find a way forward for their fragile and tender love.

A beautiful read for anyone who likes their love stories beautiful and dark - the way all love stories should be?

Friday, 6 November 2015

Five children on the Western Front - review

Fans of thought-provoking and moving children's fiction are in for a treat with Kate Saunders 'Five Children on the Western Front' which gives a viewpoint of the First World War from a group of younger siblings at home when their two older brothers go off to fight.

The book was published to coincide with hundredth anniversary of the start of the War last year and tells the tale of the War in a way that is engaging for children as young a nine or ten. 

This follow-up to E Nesbit's classic 'Five Children and It', cleverly and poignantly takes central characters from the original classic story and plunges them into a First World War setting. The original cast of characters would have been of the generation of Edwardian children who would have been at the heart of the fighting, so it neatly brings in new characters and a new setting, but with an existing cast that some readers will already be familiar with.

On the home front, younger siblings are at first excited by the news of war. Then, as the war lengthens, its impact takes hold. Change is happening at home all around - from women's rights to social mobility, it's an exciting time to be a child. One of the girls find determination not simply to offer charity to the sick, but to become a doctor. The tennis court is dug up to plant potatoes as shortages bite.

As a historical novel it is a time very rich with possibility.

But the heart of the story is the arrival in the children's lives of a sand fairy - a character taken from the original book, the Psammead. For years the younger children have been hearing stories about him and the adventures they had when he granted wishes. But when he appears back in the children's lives, he is not to take them on exciting adventures. He is unwell and unable to grant many wishes and they must treasure him and look after hiim. 

This great historical novel entwines the social history of the day with the magical elements of the sand fairy. This fantasy twist to the narrative lends a lightness and humour and makes it a really accessible and enjoyable book, which is, ultimately, a sad novel about loss and the impact of the War that packs quite an emotional punch

The Psammead is undoubtedly the star of the show, prickly, ungracious and often unkind, he manages to grant enough wishes so that the children get to visit their older brother at Christmas in the trenches, and there is just enough magic to allow a few happy endings.

It's an emotional family story, that effortlessly juggles a huge cast of characters that you grow to know and love throughout the novel. Some lives may be short, but where they touch, they touch deeply.

Many people will be reading this as a sequel because they loved the original novel. But it stands very well on its own and can be enjoyed as one of the best children's books around that help demonstrate the consequences and social upheaval of the First World War. Those who enjoy historical fiction will love it.

It may also cause children to seek out the original, or some of the other classic E Nesbit stories.