Madeline, written in 1939 by American author Ludwig Bemelmans and re-issued many times since, is the first in a beloved series of children’s books about a seven year old red-headed girl living in a boarding school in Paris, France with eleven other girls. Written just before World War Two, the six books in the original series were written through the 1950s and are still being created today, some sixty years later, by Bemelmans grandson John Bemelmans-Marciano. The books have been made into several TV series, cartoons, movies and plays, and are considered classic children’s books.
Written to be read aloud to children 3 and older, and read alone by children 4 and older, the stories all start with the same line (“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines …”) and are written in rhyme, which makes them fun for children to listen to. The books appeal to younger children because Madeline, though she is the smallest of all the girls in the school, is the bravest and is always willing to try new things—even if that sometimes gets her into trouble.
In the first book, Madeline wakes up in pain in the middle of the night and is rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. By the end of the story, the eleven other girls who live at the school with Madeline all decide they want an appendectomy – and a scar–too because Madeline gets so many gifts and so much attention from hers.
After illustrating Madeline, Bemelmans received the Caldecott Medal for his drawings of everyday life and famous locations around Paris including the Eiffel Tower, the Paris Opera House and the Gardens at the Luxembourg. He named his main character after his wife, Madeleine Freund.
There are numerous websites using Madeline and her friends for fun learning materials, coloring pages and games for younger children. The six books have been newly issued in one volume that includes notes by Bemelmans describing how he created Madeline, his original concept sketches for the character and pictures of him and his family.