HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Author and Illustrator: Ludwig Bemelmans
Publisher: Penguin Group USA, republished in 1958
Related website: www.madeline.com/
Language level: 1 (nothing objectionable)
Reading level: Ages 6-8
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Bemelmans, Ludwig. Madeline (published in 1939 by Simon and Schuster). Ludwig Bemelmans (18981962) was a German-American author, writer and illustrator of children’s books, and also an internationally known gourmet. Today he is most famous for the series of Madeline books about a little girl in an orphan school at Paris, France. Bemelmans was born to Belgian painter Lambert Bemelmans and his German wife Frances Fischer in Meran, Austria (now Merano, Italy), and he grew up in Gmunden on the Traunsee in Upper Austria. After his emigration to America, he spent the next several years working at hotels and restaurants, and in 1917 joined the U.S. Army. In 1918, he was naturalized as an American citizen. In the 1920s, he tried to become an artist and painter while working at hotels, but had substantial difficulties. Also, he owned and operated a restaurant for a time. In the early 1930s he met May Massee, the children’s book editor at Viking Press who became a sort of partner, and he began to publish a number of children’s books beginning with Hansi in 1934. The first Madeline book was published in 1939 but was actually rejected by Viking and published by Simon and Schuster. Bemelmans also wrote a number of adult books, including travel and humorous works, and movie scripts for films like Yolanda and The Thief.
Each Madeline story begins: “In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines… the smallest one was Madeline.” The girls are cared for by a nun, Miss Clavel. Other characters include Pepito, son of the Spanish Ambassador, who lives next door; Lord Covington (called Cucuface by the girls), owner of the house; and Genevieve, a dog who rescues Madeline from drowning in the second book. The books are written entirely in rhyme, and the simple themes of daily life appeal to children. In the first one, simply entitled Madeline, Madeline must go to hospital to get her appendix out. It proved to be a success, and Bemelmans published five more Madeline stories in his lifetime: Madeline’s Rescue (1953; winner of the Caldecott Medal for 1954); Madeline and the Bad Hat (1956); Madeline and the Gypsies (1959); Madeline in London (1961); and Madeline’s Christmas (1985; first published in McCall’s in 1956). A seventh, Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales, was discovered and published posthumously in 1999.
The books have been adapted into numerous formats, spawning telefilms, television series and a live action feature film. The first book, Madeline, was made into an award-winning 1952 short animated cartoon directed by Robert Cannon for UPA, also titled Madeline. Between 1990 and 1995 an animated Madeline series was made for television, with narration in appropriately rhyming style read by Christopher Plummer. A live action Madeline film based on several of the books appeared in 1998. The series continues to this day, with new books written by Bemelmans’ grandson John Bemelmans-Marciano, which include Madeline In America; Madeline Loves Animals; Madeline Says Merci; and Madeline and the Cats of Rome. The stories are very interesting for young children and have fine illustrations. Some classical schools and classical homeschool curricula use them in their beginning reading programs.