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Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland app review

alice app menu2She’s grown taller and shorter so many times that it’s hard to keep track, but Lewis Carroll’s Alice is 150 years old this year. The Morgan Library & Museum is celebrating with an exhibit of artifacts related to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In addition to an online version, the Morgan also offers an app with materials from the exhibit.

After a brief description with some historical background for Carroll’s novel, the app has two main sections: “Transcriptions of Letters and Manuscripts,” and “Tenniel’s Illustrations.” Within each, a book icon brings up the index so you can navigate into any artifact you want, or you can just swipe along in order.

alice app transcriptions2
alice app tenniel's illustrations
The “Transcriptions” section presents a wide range of artifacts related to Carroll’s life, work, and world. There’s an illustrated humorous poem, “A Tale of a Tail,” from the Useful and Instructive Poetry magazine that the thirteen-year-old author created for his siblings. There’s an 1863 letter from Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Carroll’s Alice, to her father. There’s a list in Carroll’s hand of “Newspaper Notices of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” from 1866. In addition to descriptions of the items, all are accompanied by their transcripts, which are useful even though the images are clear — it’s a lot more efficient for a modern eye to read a typed version of a letter than to make sense of the flourishes in Carroll’s nineteenth-century handwriting. Nearly all of these items correspond to what’s on the web exhibit, though many are titled slightly differently. Like the website, this section of the app also has magic lantern slides with illustrations of various Alice scenes, alongside their (somewhat reworked) text.

The second section contains some of John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Most of the images are color proofs, but some are original black-and-white sketches or preparatory drawings. Here, the selection is less extensive than the more carefully curated and categorized offerings in the web exhibit.

alice app cheshire cat

This app is a useful way to view many pieces from the exhibit up close. (Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, the manuscript Carroll wrote and illustrated for Alice Liddell, is unfortunately not part of the app, although it is available on the British Library’s site.) It’s a useful resource for anyone interested in Alice’s history, and could also be helpful to students learning the concept of primary sources. But the interactivity begins and ends with navigation from one artifact to another, and the app has less to offer than the web version. For a deeper Alice rabbit hole — more illustrations and character design sketches, a playlist of music inspired by the books, and an “Alice on the Silver Screen” section featuring early film adaptations — head over to the Morgan’s digital exhibit.

Available for iPad and iPhone; free. Recommended for intermediate users and up.

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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