Books Magazine

Madeline's City

By Sedulia @Sedulia

Screen shot 2012-01-08 at 17.55.52
I was shocked when I got here to discover that the French had never heard of Madeline. The little red-headed Parisian in a cape, who says "Pooh, pooh!" to tigers at the zoo, is known to almost all American children of the reading classes, but is nobody to children in her native city (who would no doubt call her Madeleine).

It's still fun to recognize scenes from the books now that I know Paris. The tiger in the zoo is on the quais near the Botanical Gardens. The zoo is still there; sometimes when you are stuck in a traffic jam or on a bus, you can look over and see an ostrich looking back at you.


Of course the twelve little girls in two straight lines are obsolete now, as is Miss Clavel with her veil-- she is not a nun but a governess, by the way; and yes, governesses did used to dress like that. But not that long ago there was an all-girls school in Paris not far from my house where the little girls had to wear hats and walk in lines two-by-two as they went out, just like the girls in the book. "I get so many parents with those hats," the headmistress once said to me. 

One of the loveliest things about Paris is that if you go away and come back, Paris will still look much the same; the central city is preserved as if in amber, and only the storefronts change with the times. So even though Madeline was written in 1939, it gives Americans who read it as children a shock of recognition when they finally see the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides, the Opéra, and the quais of the Seine, where Madeline fell in and was dramatically rescued by that noble mutt, Genevieve.

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