Madeline and the Gypsies – Ludwig Bemelmans

More in the Series – Madeline
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

This is probably my least favourite of the Madeline books, just because of all the “gypsy” stereotypes. I realise it’s a product of its time and all that, but I think the whole “gypsy” concept is still so problematic, that I found myself wanting to have a long conversation with C about why it’s not really an okay term to use any more, and why a lot of the ideas in the book are actually pretty prejudiced.

I mean, the “gypsies” help Madeline and Pepito at first, but then it veers into the whole ‘kidnapping of children’ thing, and that’s such a deep seated and problematic trope that it made me wince a bit.

The book still passes the Bechdel (though only just and it’s a bit of a grey area) because of conversations between Madeline and Ms Clavel, but I haven’t given it the diversity point because, although there are characters of colour, they are there pretty much only to serve as a plot device – and one entrenched mostly in stereotype and prejudice.

I mean, the story has the characteristic rapidity of pace and odd meanderiness that is typical of these books, and it is quite fun to read, butI can’t really get past all the “gypsy” racism stuff. Maybe skip this one. Unless you want to use it as a talking point.

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Madeline in London – Ludwig Bemelmans

More in the Series – Madeline
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

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

I think this is one of the weaker Madeline books, personally. Maybe it was just that it was so soon after ‘The Gruffalo” but some of the rhymes in this one felt a bit forced to me. (I actually put it down to translation initially, but then I googled Bemelmans, and it turns out he was writing in English, so we can’t blame it on that.)

Madeline’s little friend Pepito moves to London so the girls and Miss Clavel go to visit him. There’s a lot of the usual London stuff – Royal guards and palaces and whatnot. There is no Bechdel pass (despite there being two named female characters, they never actually have a dialogue in this book), and the only person of colour in the whole book is one of the cooks at the Pepito’s parents’ embassy, and I balk at giving it a point for diversity when the only POC is a servant.

The story leaves something to be desired too. Madeline and her friends buy Pepito a horse for his birthday, adopting it from the home for retired horses. There is a joke about making glue, because of course, and the horse is taken off to Pepito’s house. It escaped, shenanigans ensue, they bring him back where he eats Pepito’s mother’s flowers and is summarily banned from staying. So the girls put him on a plane and take him back to Paris with them. Like you do. (I also remember what an enormous fuss was made about them having a dog, so it seems rather unwise for them to upgrade to a horse – especially one they allow to sleep INSIDE the house.

It just feels a bit less coherent than the other books, and not quite as good. It’s still pretty fun to read though, and C gave it a thumbs up, but if you’re going to read Madeline books, this may not be the place to start.

Madeline and the Bad Hat – Ludwig Bemelmans

More in the Series – Madeline
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

“The Bad Hat” in the title, it turns out, is a boy. I guess it’s a bit like a “bad egg” or a “bad apple”. Bad hat isn’t a term I’ve encountered before. I thought originally it might be a translation thing, but it turns out (Google tells me) that this is actually a term in the world, so there ya go.

Anyway, because the focus of this book is on the “bad hat” – the son of the Spanish ambassador who moves in next door to Ms Clavel’s school – there is no Bechdel pass. Every conversation in the book is about him. There is also no one in the book who isn’t very white and European. The closest thing to cultural diversity is Pepito’s matador outfit, and I’m afraid I’m not willing to count that.

The ideology of the book, however, is pretty neat. There are a couple of things going on here that I quite liked. Firstly, I love how Madeline is just so totally and thoroughly unimpressed by Pepito’s shenanigans. She’s just like, nope, you’re a ratbag, having none of that. Ms Clavel is taken in by him, definitely falling into the “boys will be boys” trap, but Madeline herself? No dice. Even when he says he’s seen the error of his ways, she gives not an inch until he proves it.

And yet at the same time the narrative is written in such a way that it is clear that while Pepito’s actions are very misguided, mostly he is just trying to impress her and the other girls. He’s clearly lonely and wanting to make friends, he just sucks at it. Somehow the story manages to hang on to censuring his actions without actually making him the bad guy. Which is quite a feat of nuance for a children’s story. 🙂

So yes, read this book. Madeline remains awesome.

Madeline’s Rescue – Ludwig Bemelmans

More in the Series – Madeline
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

I can’t get over how badly mistitled this book is. Madeline falls in the Seine and is rescued by a dog, who then becomes part of the family in “the old house in Paris”. But the bulk of the story is about the dog – her adoption, how the children fight over her attention, how the trustees in the school kick her out and how they all go looking for her afterwards to bring her back. The book is named for the rescue, but the rescue is over by the fifth spread, and most of the story focusses on the dog.

Apart from that little quibble, though, the book is as charming as the other Madeline books. I am definitely a fan of these stories. It passes Bechdel as Madeline and Miss Clavel have dialogue between them. There’s no real diversity at all, apart from the fact that the bulk of the characters (including the dog) are female.

I guess there’s a little bit of ideological stuff going on about how the trustees are wrong about the dog, and how their distaste for her seems to be snobbery. Their spokesman (Lord Cucuface!!) says she should leave because: “it’s a perfect disgrace for young ladies to embrace this creature of uncertain race”. Which, to me, reads like a breeding thing – in other words, Lord Cucuface (oh my, that name) is just being a big snob.

I am amused by how after they leave the girls and Miss Clavel go in search of Genevieve (the dog) and there is no question that Miss Clavel is on their side. She cannot stand up to The Money, but she has no qualms subverting their orders along with the children. I’m not sure what they’re going to do the following year when they have not one dog, but a whole pack – given that in the end Genevieve has puppies. But I suppose that’s next year’s problem. 😉

 

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.

Recommended!

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