Spread the Love Children’s Book Challenge: Madeline’s Rescue

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In furtherance of Jazzie and Obscura’s Spread the Love Children’s Book Challenge, Guest blogger KatharineD writes about everyone’s favorite, Madeline, in Madeline’s Rescue.

As a child I was surrounded by books; both my parents were librarians, so there was a constant stream of new books entering the house. We didn’t have TV, because my parents considered it to be non-educational, so books were everything to us- to be read, to have read to you. We were also taken to our local public library regularly on Friday evenings so we could choose for ourselves, quite apart from what Dad brought home for us to read. There are any number of children’s books that have made a lasting impression on me, but I’ve chosen one from my young childhood, Madeline’s Rescue, first published in 1953.
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The author, Ludwig Bemelmans wrote a series of Madeline books, so if you fell in love with one, there were others to enjoy as well. Madeline (1939) established the much-loved character, a little red-headed girl who lived in a boarding school in Paris, whose teacher, Miss Clavel, was always having to sort out her misadventures. Each book began with the same lines:

‘In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.
They left the house at half past nine, the smallest one was Madeline.’

Just reading the opening lines again puts a smile on my face, and these are words that are just made to be read aloud; part of the appeal of the stories comes from the simple pleasure of the way the text sounds, the musicality of the words.

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As a young girl growing up in 1960s Australia, Madeline’s life in Paris seemed unbelievably exciting, (notwithstanding the hazardous nature of her mishap) in Madeline’s Rescue. Slipping and falling off a bridge into the Seine, only to be rescued from drowning by a dog, was a grand adventure. The text was delightfully melodramatic, reflecting the larger-than-life nature of our young protagonist’s escapades.

‘And nobody knew so well, how to frighten Miss Clavel- until the day she slipped and fell.
Poor Madeline would now be dead, but for a dog that kept it’s head,
And dragged her safe from a watery grave’.
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Madeline was a girl who could never quite conform; trouble always came looking for her, and she swept everyone else along with her. Of course she had to adopt her stray canine rescuer, christen her Genevieve, and take the dog back to the school with her; she was a girl who didn’t shirk repaying heroic deeds. When eventually the head of the trustees, the hilariously named Lord Cucuface, came for an inspection, he took exception to having a pet on the premises and kicked the dog out onto the street, whereby all hell broke loose. Madeline stood on a chair and loudly proclaimed her outrage:

‘Miss Genevieve, noblest dog in France, you shall have your VEN-GE-ANCE!’

It’s a line from children’s literature to be celebrated, to be read aloud with oomph and vigour; I love the sheer audacity of the manipulated rhyme- and I’ve always remembered it.

Of course Miss Clavel and her charges scoured the streets of Paris searching for Genevieve, but without success. She eventually found her own way back to the school to everyone’s delight and relief. The girls squabbled over spending time with their beloved pet, but there was one more twist to the tale, and they woke later that night to find Genevieve had given birth to a litter of puppies.

‘For the third time that night, Miss Clavel turned on the light,
And to her surprise she found
That suddenly there was enough hound
To go all round.’

A large part of the charm of the Madeline books came from the illustrations, also done by the author, which in the case of Madeline’s Rescue, earned him the 1954 Caldecott Medal for illustration, which recognised the preceding year’s ‘most distinguished American picture book for children’.
It’s a book that will always find a captivated young audience, and just made for reading aloud, either to a young child on the knee, or in a group storytelling time. My sister was born ten years after me, so I had the fun of revisiting my favourite stories for her benefit, this time reading to her instead of being read to. The Madeline stories have gone on to spawn a TV show and a movie, and I discovered while doing research that first editions now fetch well over US $1,000, but for me they will always be a series of much-loved childhood memories, and I’ll now hand a copy of Madeline’s Rescue to my young niece to enjoy.
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14 thoughts on “Spread the Love Children’s Book Challenge: Madeline’s Rescue

  1. Pingback: Rosiepig loves Anne of Green Gables: spReAd the love book challenge guest post | Me + Richard Armitage

  2. Madeleine now reminds me of Jane Eyre somehow….lol! But thanks for reminding me to look for these for my first grade daughter. I love the pictures and the rhymes. And the French setting…..

    Like

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