Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Ludwig Bemelmans - April 27

Happy Birthday Ludwig Bemelmans- April 27, 1898 - October 1, 1962

Madeline, the beloved character created by Ludwig Bemelmans, stands out among the other eleven children in her boarding school. The adventurous nature that shines from Madeline is strikingly similar to the life of Ludwig Bemelmans.  The Austrian born trouble-maker moved to the United States in 1914 and quickly became a member of the U.S. Army during the first World War.  Later, he started his career as restaurateur, but also spent time painting murals.  He became an owner of the famous restaurant, the Hapsburg House in 1925.  He looked at himself as an artist but started writing children's books in 1934 after a suggestion by an editor at Viking Press.  The rest of his career was full of interesting endeavors including writing books for adults and children (Over 40 total books, 18 for children, however many are out of print), contributing to magazines like Vogue and The New Yorker, painting, traveling the world, and even spending time in Hollywood writing scripts for movies (Yolanda and the Thief, 1946).

Ludwig Bemelmans had talent that allowed himself to try and often succeed at his many ventures. In my opinion, as a big fan of children's literature, his most important accomplishment was creating the character of Madeline. Madeline has been described as strong-willed, mischievous, fearless, and impulsive. Ludwig Bemelman's wife, Madeleine, stated that the character is based upon a blend of Ludwig, his mother, herself, and their daughter, Barbara. The original idea for the concept of Madeline was based upon Ludwig's mother's stories of her time spent in a boarding school.  Bemelmans also attended boarding school when he was young.

We get acquainted with Madeline, Miss Clavel (her teacher), and her friends over a series of six books including the Caldecott Honor Book, Madeline (1939) and the Caldecott Medal Winner, Madeline's Rescue (1954).  There were approximately 14 years between the first and second books of this series, yet they both were honored for the outstanding illustrations.  I loved looking at the illustrations of the little girls' faces. Just by looking at their facial expressions while the girls were in bed gave you a sense of whether Miss Clavel was going to have problems after she shut off the lights. ( ~Sigh~) The emotions of young children are worn right on their faces.

The idea for Madeline came to him when Bemelmans injured his arm in a bicycle accident and spent time in a hospital room across the hall from a young girl that just had her appendix out.  She showed him her scar just as Madeline does when her friends come to visit her in the hospital.  Another little tidbit is that the hospital room in which Bemelmans stayed in during his injury had a crack on the ceiling that looked like a rabbit which is also in the book.

My daughter feels that the best books are Madeline and the Bad Hat, Madeline and the Gypsies, and Madeline in London. She loves these books because Madeline's friend, Pepito, is in each of these books. Pepito is the son of a Spanish Ambassador that moves in next door to Madeline's boarding school.  They have a few adventures together including being left on a ferris wheel and being saved by gypsies.

The Madeline story has continued even after the passing of Ludwig Bemelmans through other media including TV and Movies.  There have been numerous attempts at bringing Madeline to life on screen that even began while Bemelmans was alive in the 50s.   Later, in the late 80s and early 90s the Madeline books were animated for HBO and the Family Channel.  Then, new original episodes were created for The Family Channel, ABC (The New Adventures of Madeline), and Disney. Many of these have been rereleased on DVD (i.e. Madeline: Meet Me in Paris, Madeline: Next Stop America) In 1998, the live-action movie Madeline was released for the big screen. Additionally, full length animated features, Madeline: Lost in Paris and My Fair Madeline, are also available on DVD. There is definitely no shortage of Madeline material to celebrate this week.

Ludwig's grandson, son of Barbara, John Bemelmans Marchiano has revived Madeline in print.  Initially, he found unfinished manuscripts from his grandfather, and put them together in the book Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales.  In this book some of the artwork was based upon pencil sketches by Ludwig Bemelmans.  John Bemelmans Marchiano has also created original works based upon Madeline with Madeline says Merci and Madeline and the Cats of Rome. There is also a board book called Madeline Loves Animals. One of the most acclaimed titles by Marchiano is the biography Bemelmans: The Life and Art of Madeline's Creator.

This week our family really enjoyed reading Madeline and reciting the reoccurring verses together.  My wife even commented, "I guess I never read these books before, but they are really good."  My daughter insisted that we read them before bedtime and I even caught her reading them by herself.  One thing we did encounter was some vocabulary in the books that was difficult. I tried to remember all the words that my daughter asked about and made them available in a printable sheet.

I am going to finish this blog post similar to how many other articles about Ludwig Bemelmans conclude: "That's all there is, there isn't any more." - from Madeline.

Click Here for this week's Library Checklist!


1.  Madeline Website
2.  1989 Audio Inteview with Madeleine Bemelmans, Ludwig's wife
3.  Madeline's Rescue activities from Scholastic
4.  The New Adventures of Madeline - Madeline and the Lost Crown - Season 2, Ep. 1 from Amazon
5.  Madelineoriginal's YouTube Channel - Lots of Clips
6.  Carly Simon Song "Two Straight Lines" from Madeline Movie - YouTube
7.  Madeline TV Show Intro - YouTube
8.  Madeline Coloring Pages - Coloring Book Fun
9.  Madeline Birthday Party Ideas
10. Madeline Lesson Plan from Film Education
11. Madeline at the Circus Ballet - Home Study Guide
12. Join the Madeline Fan Club

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