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Review: Wonderland

We all know the story–girl falls down a rabbit hole, discovers various potions to change her shape, makes strange new acquaintances, and finally escapes the despotic government. But what of the people left behind? What of the little people of Wonderland, the cards, the rabbits, the maids? This is the story of Mary Ann, the maid of the White Rabbit, and her adventures in Wonderland.

Written by Tommy Kovac; illustrated by Sonny Liew
Ages 13+
Disney Press, 2008, ISBN(hdbk): 978-142310451-3
160 pages, $19.99

Is Wonderland really Wonderland without Alice? In the hands of Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew it is! They’ve opted to create a Wonderland tale that doesn’t show Alice as anything more than a shadow in one scene, though her presence is all over the story, looming as large as she ever did after drinking from a mysterious bottle. Mary Ann is a nice stand-in for Alice, though, without being anything other than her own person. She’s fussy and fidgety, quick to get annoyed, but also quick to defend the hard work done by maids everywhere. The Wonderland regulars all turn out. The White Rabbit is a silly caricature of British gentry, the Mad Hatter is…well, mad, and the Cheshire Cat is frankly a little creepy. All much as they were when Lewis Carroll first created them, even down to the dry British humor. But the magic in Kovac’s writing is that he carefully stays on the side of homage and sequel, rather than just making his tale a rehash of Carroll’s work.

Liew’s art is a wonder to behold in itself. Using an autumn palette keeps the art from any hint of cartoonishness, even as his characters have the exaggerated features of a comic strip. Liew has a way with text bubbles, altering them as needed to fit various characters. The Queen of Hearts, for example, always has hearts bordering her speeches, while the Jabberwocky’s exclamations are more liquid looking. Visual puns are as prevalent as literary ones, such as when the White Rabbit’s pocket-watch "clocks" someone upside the head. Chapter dividers are as lavishly illustrated as the rest of the pages, making the book seem complete and somehow fancier.

What keeps this from being an all ages title is not any amount of cartoon violence or even the Queen’s constant exhortations to "Cut Off Her Head!!!" Instead it is that readers really need to have read the original Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass to know what is going on. There isn’t much time wasted on explanations of who various characters are, but fans of the book will instantly recognize the people and situations hinted at by Kovac and Liew. This would make a terrific companion to a classroom discussion of Alice in Wonderland or the two would pair up nicely for a summer reading assignment. Fans of Carroll’s work will love this chaotic, silly, fun companion story.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Disney Press.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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