Sunday, September 21, 2014

“Madeline and the Old House in Paris” by John Bemelmans Marciano

Age: 3 and up
Genre: Picture book

I recently attended a wonderful yearly event, the Princeton Children’s Book Festival. This is a day when over 50 authors and illustrators come to Princeton, NJ and sit outside the library at tables with big stacks of their books just waiting to be signed for eager children (and adults). While maneuvering through the crowds, which seem to get bigger every year, a Madeline book caught my eye. I grew up reading about the French orphan and her many adventures, and I thought surely the author isn’t here. He can’t still be alive. Those books were old when I was young. But there was a gentleman sitting at the table in front of several Madeline books, so while he chatted with a child and parent, I picked a book up and flipped to the “about the author” portion on the back flap. Here I read that this man, John Bemelmans Marciano, is grandson to Madeline’s original creator, Ludwig Bemelmans, and “carries on the Madeline legacy.” So I purchased a copy of Madeline and the Old House in Paris and thought I’d see how it compared to the Madeline stories I knew and loved.

Marciano has used the familiar characters, including the titular Madeline, Miss Clavel, and neighbor boy Pepito. In this story, the head of the school where Madeline lives (“the old house in Paris” referred to in the title), Lord Cucuface, comes to visit and takes a telescope he finds in the attic. Later that night, awakened by a strange noise, Madeline leads her classmates back to the attic and finds a ghost. The ghost reveals himself to be Felix de Lamorte, and the telescope Lord Cucuface took belongs to him. He needs it back so he can witness a comet that only comes every 221 years. Madeline and Pepito devise a plan to scare Lord Cucuface and return Lamorte’s telescope to its rightful owner in time to see the comet. I enjoyed having a new Madeline adventure to read and was pleased with Marciano’s creation. His artwork is very similar to Bemelmans’, including some illustrations entirely in yellow, black, and white. He uses the same rhyming style in his text, and it reads well. Reading this book put a smile on my face as I recognized the rhythm and characters of my childhood. Though the story involves a ghost, he is not in the least bit scary, and I doubt that young children will be frightened by this book. Fans of Madeline should welcome this and the other new stories Marciano has lovingly created.

Bibliographic Information:
Marciano, John B. Madeline and the Old House in Paris. New York, NY: Viking, 2013.

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