One of my favorite books growing up was a compilation of all of the Madeline books by Ludwig Belmelmans. I read and re-read it until I earned the title “Mad about Madeline.” I watched the 1998 movie “Madeline” over and over, and was enchanted by the French school girls and their adventures.
I recently came across this book again. In reading it now, many years later, I was surprised how Belmelmans was able to convey so much with so few words. Most of the pages have one or two lines of text, and sometimes only one word. The story is told in rhyming poetry, often leaving much to the imagination of the reader.
I was also surprised at the coloring of the illustrations. A large majority of the pages have only two colors: yellow and black. But then you’ll hit a two page spread with brilliant color, almost always an outdoor scene, and often with a famous landmark in the background. In both Belmelmans uses simple black lines and scribbled shading, often only enclosing part of an object in line.
I wondered at the capability of such sparse wording and simplistic illustrations to capture my attention as a young reader, and came across these quotes from the website www.madeline.com.
“What is it about this character that has endeared her to readers for more than 60 years? The answer is—attitude.”
“Madeline is a gutsy little girl, and that’s what makes her such a unique role model in a time when storybook princesses defined femininity for girls. Madeline gave young girls a reason to explore who they were as individuals, even if that meant being a tad disobedient. She gave girls the courage to speak their mind and showed them that there was nothing unfeminine about being smart and strong.”
I love that. And I love that Madeline has lasted from its original publication in 1939. And I love that it is continuing to last with new Madeline books from Belmelmans’ grandson! Check them out!
– Jocelyn Wildhack