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Madeline: An Illustrator's Children's Book Review (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5)

What happens

Madeline is a book published in 1937 by Ludwig Bemelmans about about twelve little girls living in a boarding school in Paris under the care of Miss Clavel. The book opens with the girls performing their nightly routine of breaking their bread, brushing their teeth, and going to bed. They're shown marching around Paris, smiling at the good, and frowning at the bad—rain or shine. Madeline is the smallest, yet the bravest and toughest of the twelve girls. She gives Miss Clavel a hard time through her constant antics.

One night, Madeline is heard crying. She's rushed away to the hospital where she's treated for a ruptured appendix. Her boarding school friends pay her a visit while she's recuperating. During their visit, the girls note the "toys and candy and dollhouse from Papa", and Madeline shows off her fresh scar to her classmates.

The girls return to the school and repeat their same routine—broke their bread, brushed their teeth, and went to bed. Later that evening, Miss Clavel is awoken to the sound of the eleven little girls crying. Their reason, to Miss Clavel's relief, is they too want their appendix removed.

What I liked

Right off the bat I love looseness of the illustration style. The quick sketchy illustration fits with the bustle of an urban centre such as Paris (having just honeymooned in Paris, I also enjoyed the landmarks). This loose style is not my personal go-to, though I feel Bemelmans was able to effectively communicate the narrative using this style.

In contrast, all indoor scenes are illustrated using a splash of warm butter yellow for the background, more saturated yellow for highlights, and black pencil. This gives the impression of safety and consistency while the girls are in the care of Miss Clavel and the school.

I enjoyed the rhyming in the story. The repetition of the girls nightly routine was also great, making this text more accessible to young readers. I can imagine the delight and confidence boost a young reader would experience as they're able to quickly recognize and read words they have fresh in their minds!

In my opinion, this story is a really great example of Parisian parenting. Throughout the story, there are examples of discipline, respect, as well and fostering independence and responsibility. Discipline is illustrated through the girls nightly routine; and respect is shown through the girls walking in a straight line respecting the rules (I imagine were) set by Miss Clavel. While independence is illustrated through Madeline's tomfoolery, and responsibility through her taking care of the rat found in the kitchen.

While I haven't read the other books in the Madeline series yet, Miss Clavel seems to be empathetic, and remains calm and understanding of the messiness that is being a child. For example, instead of scolding the girls for wanting a health condition in trade for some toys and candy, she calmly wishes them a goodnight.

What I didn't like

What I didn't like about the story was, while titled "Madeline", I didn't feel like there was enough character development. I would've like to have seen more shenanigans. I think the story would have been better told if Madeline ended up in the hospital for a self-inflicted (but non-intentional) injury. A ruptured appendix seems completely random, especially for an adventurous little girl.

It also wasn't clear, at least to me, that they were students at a boarding school. I read this book as a child, and since then been under the impression that Madeline was an orphan at an orphanage—am I alone in this? It was only now when I read that she received gifts from "Papa" that she does in fact have at least one parent.

Overall I think this book is very charming and there's a lot to like. However I do think the story's conflict could've been better thought out to help with the development of Madeline's character. This is my first book review, so I don't really have a benchmark for what's good/bad. However I didn't dislike it, and I definitely liked it a little bit. That's why I'll give Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans 4/5 stars.

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