Lewis Carroll’s The Nursery Alice in Translation: A Time-based Exploration of a New Reading Paradigm for Young Children in Italy

Claudia Alborghetti*

*Corresponding author

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Lewis Carroll’s The Nursery Alice (1890), a rewriting of the well-known Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), is a remarkable anticipation of reading interaction between adults and children “aged from Nought to Five”, as the author wrote in his preface to the book. Recent research focused on the alternate fortune of The Nursery Alice and emphasised the time span in which the idea for this book developed in Carroll’s literary projects. Carroll conceived a text that maintained only a superficial resemblance with its “elder sister” and interrogated a dual audience of adults (the actual readers) and children (the receptors) on the illustrations scattered throughout the book. The preponderance of the colourized illustrations over the text, as well as the ways in which the narrator invites the audience to use the book, anticipate the modern conception of books as physical tools to introduce very young children to a positive attitude towards reading. The Nursery Alice soon went out of print and many years passed until a new reprint reappeared on the market in the mid-20th century. In Italy, this book took longer to be translated and published in two distinct versions with new illustrations and translations in 1992 and 2017. This paper wishes to explore the reasons behind these translations based on the cultural approach to translation as an indicator of social, economic and political shifts offered by Bassett and Lefevere, tracing a timeline in the educational evolution that had to occur in Italy in order to produce them. Alice dei bambini first and Alice dei piccoli later, reflect the recent pedagogical approach to “emergent literacy” as an opportunity to study the developmental attitude of pre-readers towards reading material and their relationship with competent adults. As stated by Chartier, quality children’s literature is meant to initiate young readers to savour “slow reading”, encouraging constant re-reading. Therefore, a reading canon of classics seems to support this role of “cultural initiator” to prepare young readers to more complex texts. In Italy, this initiation process started around the end of the 20th century, and a growing awareness of the importance of early literacy in more recent years has prompted adults as mediators to produce, disseminate, buy (or lend), read books and interact with pre-readers using a wide variety of sources. To this end, small, independent publishing houses promoted series specifically designed to introduce rewritings of classics to a dual audience, as is the case for the two translations mentioned. The paratextual material is indicative of the diffusion and reception network intended for these volumes. From a textual point of view, the translations show a distinct shift in the intended audience: in Alice dei bambini the narrator speaks to a group of people, in Alice dei piccoli it addresses a single reader. This is only one of the numerous instances of adaptation that suggest how a change in the conception of the development of very young children’s reading skills promoted the creation of a new literary vision of The Nursery Alice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHistories of Education and Reform: Traditions, Tensions and Transitions
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes
EventISCHE - Budapest
Duration: 24 Jul 202325 Jul 2023




  • Nursery Alice
  • Alice dei piccoli
  • Lewis Carroll
  • Alice dei bambini
  • emergent literacy
  • translation
  • children’s literature
  • traduzione
  • letteratura per l'infanzia


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