Madeline: A Wholesome Choice in a Kid Lit Diet

 

 

Madeline

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”

So begins the story of Madeline, and so begins every book in the series.

Madeline lives in a convent most likely in the 1930’s. Her teacher and governess is a nun, Miss Clavel. When I was a child, I thought it was terrible that little girls had to live away from their parents. I assumed Miss Clavel was mean like Snow White’s stepmother. After all, the girls were forced to walk in two straight lines. Because Madeline was the smallest girl, I expected the others to bully her like Cinderella’s stepsisters. Obviously, I’d been reading too many fairytales! Imagine my surprise when I found out that Miss Clavel cried when Madeline had to have an emergency appendectomy, and the other eleven girls begged to visit her in the hospital!

My favorite of the six original books is Madeline and the Bad Hat. Not only is Madeline her spunky, red-headed self, she shows tremendous wisdom in differentiating right and wrong behavior. She will have nothing to do with the boy who is mean. However, once he shows he has changed his ways, she is quick to forgive and happy to be his friend. What a great choice to read aloud over and over again so kindness sinks into our children’s hearts.

Madeline’s creator, Ludwig Bemelmans (1896-1963), emigrated to the United States from Austria in 1914. My Austrian grandfather, only two years older than Bemelmans, also arrived in this country shortly before World War I began. Perhaps, that is one more reason I have an affinity for the author. Both men lived in Brooklyn; both traveled internationally. I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew each other! Unfortunately, I can’t ask them. My grandfather died in 1963 as well.

Madeline and the Cats of Rome

After Bemelmans’ death, one would assume the Madeline books were done. Enter John Bemelmans Marciano, the author’s grandson. Marciano is an artist and author in his own right. By studying his grandfather’s notes, John wrote five more Madeline tales, eventually adding his own personality to the later books, but Madeline remains the same feisty, mischievous but good child she always was.

In 2014, Marciano put down his pen and declared there would be no further Madeline stories in the foreseeable future. In the same year, he collaborated with the New York Historical Society in preparing an exhibition for the 75th anniversary of the first Madeline book. The curator of the Society, Jane Curley, stated, “We live in a throwaway society, but Madeline endures.”

I agree. Like an overabundant buffet table, our literary world is filled with addictive stories that lure us into the ultra-rich desserts of exotic fantasy worlds (and I love rich desserts!).  Readers toss away perfectly ripe apples of the last century’s bestsellers. We still need the healthy meat and potato meals of solid, simple fiction. What other healthy staples in established literature would you recommend?

meat and potatoes

 

 

 

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When I DO Like Fantasy

The first thing that comes to my mind upon hearing “fantasy fiction” is a medieval setting. Knights and dragons, sorcerers and quests. Unreadable names for every castle, dell, and hero. How annoying. I like to use basic phonics and sound out unfamiliar names. But with all those Welsh spellings? Forget it!

I realize there is far more to fantasy fiction than settings based on the Middle Ages in western civilization. Maybe Tolkien started the entire sub-genre with his Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have finally realized that Tolkien and Lewis weren’t the only authors to use fantasy as a vehicle to present Christian truth.

Take Lloyd Alexander (1924-2007). An American author, he found his niche in the 1960’s writing children’s fantasy. In 1969, he won the Newbery Award for The High King. Having spent his army years during World War Two in Wales, he gained first-hand experience in medieval geography. Yeah, there are a lot of Welsh names in his books. I wish I had known about his pronunciation guide, a separate book published in 1999.

Since I didn’t like fantasy, I never read much of it, so I only recently discovered his five part series, The Chronicles of Prydain. I had scanned The High King, the final book in the series, and was impressed with the deep philosophies analyzing good and evil which he wrote in such a way that children can understand.

Chronicles of Prydain

Until I have read them all, I don’t want to comment further on whether this could be considered Christian fiction, but I don’t mind if you spoil it for me and make your own comments.

Ideas introduced in the first novel, The Book of Three, figure prominently at the end of The High King, so I expect to have the total satisfaction of seeing the story come full circle, every loose end neatly tied to another.

I have read voraciously from kindergarten on, but the older I get, the more I realize how many books I’ve missed out on. While I’ll never live long enough to read all that I would desire, I want my tablet to be filled with so many books to read that the number of titles could rival Santa’s Naughty and Nice List!

What other inspirational fantasy fiction would you recommend to me? Especially in children’s literature?

The Chronicles of Narnia: Which Book is Your Favorite?

Imagine you’re a teenager in Britain whose godfather is the writer extraordinaire C.S. Lewis. One day he comes to visit and presents you with his latest manuscript. Not only does he use your name as one of the main characters, he dedicates the book to you. That’s exactly what happened to Lucy Barfield in May of 1950.

I hope that by now everyone who reads The Scriblerians would already be aware of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, but in case I’m wrong, let me introduce you. The first book published in this series of seven is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Set in 1940 England as well as in the fantastical land of Narnia, the story highlights the adventures of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy when they walk into a magical wardrobe and find themselves in a different world.

 

lion witch wardrobe

While the children do become heroes as they fight epic battles against evil, another hero outshines them all, beyond what any excellent king or queen of Narnia would ever hope to accomplish. Aslan, the great and terrifying Lion. (“’Course he’s not safe, but he’s good. He’s the King.”) He knows the deepest magic, and he sacrifices himself for the unworthy.

“Hmmm, 1950,” you’re thinking. “The world was more conservative then. I bet this book was accepted with open arms by the reading public. What wonderful lessons for our children!”

Think again. The literary leaders in the U.K. had already been bitten by liberal theology. Strike one: the book was fantasy, not realism. Stories of witches and make-believe worlds should only be in picture books for little children. Strike 2: using a novel to display an obvious Christian allegory was a method of brainwashing older children. Strike 3: the story was too violent. Children might be frightened.

However, Lewis and his publisher did not strike out. Children loved the book, and it sold, and it sold, and it sold.

 

love books

Later, in some fundamentalist circles in America, he had the opposite problem. The word, “witch,” was in the title. What kind of Christian author writes about witches? While I was teaching in a Christian school in the 1990’s, one of my students was not allowed to read the book in our literature unit.

In recent years, movies have been made that remain quite true to the novel, but if you haven’t read it yet, READ IT! Words on the page of a classic can outperform the best actors and scripts every time. And once you’ve read it, keep going.

My advice? Don’t read them in order of publication. The Magician’s Nephew has so many delicious secrets to reveal, it would be a shame to miss odd details throughout the series by reading it last! Either read them in chronological order of the characters’ adventures, which means start with The Magician’s Nephew, or do what I used to with my fifth grade classes. I read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe aloud first, followed by The Magician’s Nephew. The final chapter elicited so many delighted “ahas,” the local library had a difficult time keeping Prince Caspian and the other four books on the shelves!

 

chronicles of Narnia

Short survey: which of the seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia is your favorite? My best friend loves The Last Battle. Mine is the Magician’s Nephew.