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.

 

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.

IMG_2080

 

 

“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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