Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I'd forgotten how much I love this book. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1940. It is the story of a little girl, living at a boarding school in Paris, who one day must have an appendectomy. When she is convalescing after her surgery her classmates come to visit her. She shows them her scar and all the lovely gifts sent to her by her papa. The girls are envious.

I first encountered the book while working at a day camp in the early 80s. The camp took place at a private school during the summer. On rainy days we'd take the children into classrooms and rummage through boxes of books and toys for things to do. I found a beat up copy of Madeline in one of the boxes and read it to my group of four and five year olds.

I remembered the book fondly, but did not come across it again until my daughter was born in 1992. I wanted to build her a library of classic picture books. Shopping at a wonderful (and sadly gone) children's bookstore in Nickel's Arcade in Ann Arbor, called The Hundred Acre Wood, I was delighted to find that there were other Madeline books as well and snapped them all up in hardcover. My daughter and I were especially fond of this first in the series and read it often.

The book has been in a storage box in the basement with all of her other picture books. I dug it out last night and sat down to read it for my Caldecott project. Reading it seemed unnecessary for as I started I realized that I knew the book by heart, anticipating the next line before I turned the page. Some of our favorite lines were, "To the lion in the zoo, Madeline just said 'pooh-pooh'" and at the end when all the little girls are crying and Miss Clavel "expecting a disaster, runs fast, and then faster" the little girls all say, "Boo-hoo, we want our appendix out too." The language is simple, rythmic and rhyming, easy for children to memorize. The illustrations are colorful, fun and relaxed. This is a lovely book.

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