Madeline and me


“In an old house in Paris
that was covered in vines,
Lived twelve little girls
in two straight lines…
The smallest one was Madeline.”




When I was planning my move to Paris many years ago, a friend in Toronto introduced me to the delightful series of children’s books by Ludwig Bemelmans. I fell in love with the heroine, an intrepid little girl called Madeline.




“And to the tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said ‘pooh, pooh.’”




I was enamored with the illustrations that so artfully capture Paris of the 1930s. And with the silly rhymes that recount the adventures of feisty little Madeline, who lives in a boarding school along with the unflappable Miss Clavel and Geneviève, the little dog who saves the girl from drowning in the Seine.

Intimidated by la capitale and its denizens, I was inspired by Madeline’s fearlessness. As I floundered my way around, getting lost and attempting to ask directions, I would imagine those little girls in their two straight lines, walking sedately as French children do. I would picture the bravado of Madeline as she chased after Pepito, the Spanish ambassador’s son. If ever there was a heroine after my own heart, it was she.

When I married my own Pepito, a Frenchman some seven years my junior, and we stood in gilded chambers before the moustachioed mayor, I thought of Madeline and said ‘oui’ with gusto.

And I was further inspired by Bemelmans’ heroine some years later. My husband and I wanted to choose names for our children that would ring well in both languages.

Our first child was a boy and we called him Elliott.

But our second child, the smallest, was a girl. Madeline.

Our daughter grew up to be as fearless as her namesake. Here she is with the lions.




“And that’s all there is, there isn’t any more.”





14 thoughts on “Madeline and me

    1. Zimbabwe, in fact. Madeline is studying to be a vet and spent a month last summer on a Lion Rehabilitation project there – which she loved but gave her mother a few sleepless nights! 🙂

  1. What a beautifully written and charming piece. I too adore Madeline and read it and read it to my daughters but none is called Madeline and (perhaps therefore) none has a lion!

  2. What a lovely story ! Did Madeline’s father also have a few sleepless nights because Madeline’s mother couldn’t get any sleep after she saw her little Madeline with those beautiful lions ? 🙂

    1. Oh no, he’d sleep through just about anything! It’s a gift – possibly given only to men. But I think he was more worried about the locals than the wildlife!

  3. Oh I loved these books so much “quand j’étais petite” ! I admired her bravery and it makes my heart happy to know there is a real Madeleine out there walking a lion!!

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