Wednesday 8 April 2015


It always interests me how much where we live effects the books we read as children. Growing up in the UK, I never heard of Madeline, or any of the other books in this series. I didn't even know anything about it until I started to watch American television programs and films many years later in Australia. But slowly the book started to seep into my knowledge of classic "American" books. My main point of reference was hearing it quoted in popular culture, often by precocious children who lived on the Upper East Side in Manhattan.

Last year when I spied the book and its beautiful cover, I couldn't resist to get a copy and find out what all the fuss was about.

The first revelation about Madeline was the illustrations. While the book was published in 1939, the artwork is something I would have placed for a good 10-15 years later. It seems to be ahead of its time. The cheekiness of the characters too. This is not a stiff upper-lip type story, but rather about 12 girls who live in a Catholic boarding school in Paris, and get up to mischief.

Madeline was written by Ludwig Bemelmans, who was born in Austria but made America his home. He wrote fiction and non-fiction books for adults and had his worked published in publicaitons such as The New Yorker. His grandson John Bemelmans Marciano has continued on his legacy, creating four more books in the series.

Serendipitously when we were reading the book my daughter was about to go to hospital for a standard childhood operation. However, reading this story about Madeline going to hospital to have her appendix out, gave us something to talk about, and helped to normalise the process a little. 

Thanks to its rhyming text and the playfulness of the words, it's one of the books that she enjoys reciting. It is easy to see why it has become an American classic, and gets referenced so much in that country's culture. 

images the indigo crew

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