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.”






  1. davidprosser · May 29, 2014

    Where on Earth was Madeline to be walking along so unconcerned with a lioness? It’s not your every day pet.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • MELewis · May 29, 2014

      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! 🙂

  2. Osyth · May 29, 2014

    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!

    • MELewis · May 29, 2014

      Merci! Glad you enjoyed it, and perhaps just as well for your daughters – I could do without pets like that!

  3. Selma's Table · May 29, 2014

    Wonderful – just wonderful!

  4. Anne · May 29, 2014

    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 ? 🙂

    • MELewis · May 29, 2014

      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!

      • neil · May 30, 2014

        We did have some sleepless nights but he forgot to have them…..

  5. jetgirlcos · May 29, 2014

    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!!

    • MELewis · May 30, 2014

      Merci! 🙂 And I wish someone had read them to me when I was little – maybe I’d be as brave as my daughter!

  6. msshe · May 30, 2014

    Oh how I love the Madeline books….and the name. So pretty as is your daughter I’m sure. Sheila

    • MELewis · May 31, 2014

      Merci Sheila! I love the pronunciation of Madeline in both languages – in French it’s more like ‘Mad-leen’.

      • msshe · June 1, 2014

        Mais oui! J’adore les deux. Sheila

Leave a Reply to jetgirlcos Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s