CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 12 . . . . February 18, 2000
In an old house in ParisPerhaps there can be no greater "gift" than discovering that which you thought was gone forever has surprisingly reappeared, even if for one last time. With the 1962 death of Ludwig Bemelmans, creator of the delightful Madeline character, children of all ages had to content themselves with Bemelmans' output of just six Madeline adventures. Now, 60 years after the first publication of Madeline, Bemelmans' grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano, has made available a "new" Madeline story. In the early 1950's, following a visit to Texas, Ludwig Bemelmans wrote the text for "Madeline's Christmas in Texas" and completed pen and ink sketches. However, the book, never published, was "lost" until Marciano discovered the manuscript and sketches while researching his grandfather. As an end note explains, "the artwork for Madeline in America began with Ludwig Bemelmans's pencil sketches. From these, John Marciano recreated the characters in full-colour gouache, adding the Texas backgrounds and landmarks in his grandfather's tradition."
In Madeline in America, just prior to Christmas, Madeline is informed that her great-grandpapa in Texas has died, leaving "her all his earthy wealth." Joined by Miss Clavel, the other 11 girls, and Genevieve, Madeline flies to Texas where the girls' bonnets are replaced by ten gallon hats as they are toured about Madeline's new, enormous ranch that has not only cattle, but also gold mines and oil wells. Like usual, Madeline gets lost during the girls' adventures and must be found. The story ends with Madeline's discovering that she does not inherit the wealth until her twenty-first birthday, and, therefore, she will be returning to her boarding school in Paris.
Not the strongest of story lines, Madeline in America is still a worthy tale to share with those who have enjoyed the character in the original half dozen titles. Perhaps because Madeline in America is too long for a 32 page picture book, it is packaged with two other stories by Bemelmans, the "Other Holiday Tales" of the title. "The Count and the Cobbler" is a brief tale about a poor cobbler and his family at Christmas while "Sunshine" is about Mr. Sunshine, a nasty landlord, who mistreats one of his tenants, a sweet old lady, Miss Moore. At Christmas, however, he relents, and "peace was on earth." The art for the former story, originally full-colour ink, was recreated in gouache by Marciano while the illustrations of the latter were "recreated in full-colour for this book by photographing the pages from collectors' editions."
Between the two tales, Barbara Bemelmans, Ludwig's daughter, interjects a three page "A Bemelmans Christmas Memory" in which she recalls a few memorable Christmas celebrations involving her father. A closing list indicates the famous landmarks that appear in illustrations of the title story plus "Sunshine."
School and public libraries will want to add this book to their collections to round out Madeline's life.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and YA literature at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
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