Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

Bechdel:  0 points
Variety of characters: 1 point
Good story: 2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

I was totally convinced this one would pass the Bechdel, but it turns out it technically doesn’t. The two major protagonists (Madeline and Miss Clavel) are both female, and in fact there is only one other named character – the doctor. But, in fact, Miss Clavel and Madeline never actually direct words at each other. It kind of passes the spirit of the Bechdel, though, if not the letter.

The Madeline books are very well loved, and with good reason. Madeline is a fierce, brave little girl, with ingenuity, smarts and courage. This particular book doesn’t show that as well as some of the others, but even so, we catch glimpses of her feisty spirit and imaginative brain.

The lyrical quality of the book makes it a joy to read. The illustrations are not entirely to my personal taste, but there is something timeless about them. And I’ll be honest, the whole strict nun-run all girls boarding school thing is something my modern heart rebels at, but Miss Clavel is remarkably compassionate, and the girls seem pretty happy. The book embraces the childlikeness of being more impressed by the appendix scar than by the danger of the illness, it has humour and a twinkle with the idea that the other girls envy her scar so much they will fake appendicitis to get one.

Honestly, I love that this book portrays young girls, and especially Madeline herself, as childlike but still brave, feisty, smart, independent, and straight-forwardly, like that’s a normal thing.

Christopher loves the Madeline book we own (which is not this one, and which I’ll get to eventually with the “More in the Series” posts), and he loved this one too. He especially loved that bits of it were echoed from the book he knew (though I realise, in reality, it’s the other way around). Bemelmans has a real sense of what engages children, and at no point was C remotely distracted by the fact that the main character is a girl. This isn’t a “girls’ book” – it’s just a cool story about a kid with appendicitis.


What do you think? Are you a fan of Madeline? Who is your favourite fictional little girl?

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