Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alice Prequels

I posted a few weeks ago about The Grooming of Alice and I mentioned then that I wanted to read (and re-read) the whole series.  There's something about Alice that I am drawn to, something about her character that is universal, that I suspect girls relate to as well.  While Alice is questioning how life works, she also stays true to herself, something I think it is important for girls to recognize.

And I believe these books are unabashedly "girl" books.  This isn't to say that many of the situations Alice finds herself in won't be familiar to boys also.  Many boys come from families where one parent is no longer a part of the family, or have to cope with friends changing.  But not only are these books written in a girl's voice, but many of the questions Alice explores are questions that girls will identify with.

I started with the prequels to the Alice series which were written in the 2000's.  I loved getting to hear the "backstory" of how Alice and her family came to Maryland.  In Starting with Alice, Alice, her father and her brother Lester have moved from Chicago just in time for Alice's 3rd grade year to begin.  Alice is trying to make new friends and comes up against an intimidating clique on the very first day.  The primary focus of this novel is friendship, but Naylor also looks at how Alice's family is fitting together.  They've always relied on Alice's aunt for support while their father works, and now the kids must shoulder more of the responsibilities - not always successfully.
Alice in Blunderland covers something that every young girl despairs about - that they will never stop making mistakes and embarrassing themselves.  Alice feels like every time she tries to do something , including collapsing a snow cave with herself trapped inside, it goes wrong in a way she couldn't predict.  But many of the things that Alice gets wrong come from her heart and what she wants to do to be helpful.  Also in this book (which takes place during Alice's 4th grade year), her teacher announces that his wife is having a baby.  He uses this information as a teachable moment, talking about how babies develop in the womb (although he does not go into how the baby got there!). 
Finally, in Lovingly Alice, Alice and her friends spend a large portion of the book wondering about sex and the changes that come about with puberty.  As the only girl in her family, there are things that Alice doesn't know or totally comprehend - just like many 5th graders.  But Alice also has an unusually frank relationship with her brother and father, so she is the one in her group who asks the tough questions at home.  And while Naylor takes her responsibility to her audience for accurate information seriously, she also allows the girls to be silly while talking about sex - something very natural for this age.

All of these books also feature grief in a recurring role.  Alice's mother died when she was five, and Alice remembers very little about her mother.  She does get some comfort from her family's memories, but her ongoing grief is heart-rending to me.  No matter how wonderful her father is (and he is wonderful), there is always someone missing, and Naylor wisely acknowledges this.  But there are other griefs in Alice's life - her cat dies, an uncle dies, a friend leaves without saying goodbye.  These are the more everyday griefs that we all experience, and Alice is learning how to cope with these as we all do.

I do really love these books, and am excited to keep reading in this series.  I love Alice's voice, her newly found strength, her character.  She is interesting and funny and good-hearted.  I am looking forward to seeing how she continues to develop.

Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds.  Starting with Alice.  Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2002.
Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds.  Alice in Blunderland.  Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003.
Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds.  Lovingly Alice.  Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004.

all borrowed from Lewis and Clark Public Library

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