• Happy birthday John Burningham (Mr. Gumpy’s Outing), Nancy Shaw (Sheep in a Jeep), and Betty G. Birney (The World According to Humphrey).
  • It’s the birth date of Wende Devlin (1918-2002), Cranberry Thanksgiving, and Jan Hudson (1954-1990), Dawn Rider.
  • Coretta Scott King (1927-2006), author of My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., was also born on this day. Read Dare to Dream: Coretta Scott King and the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Medearis, illustrated by Anna Rich.
  • In 1810 Beethoven composes FĂĽr Elise. Gazillions of children play it on the piano to this day. Read Beethoven Lives Upstairs by Barbara Nichol, illustrated by Scott Cameron.

Born on April 27, 1898, Ludwig Bemelmans came to the United States when he was sixteen, after having been raised in Austria. As a child he lived in a hotel that his father ran; later he worked in a New York hotel to pay his bills. His true love, drawing and painting, had always been something he did only for pleasure.

In 1938 while bicycling on a small island off the coast of France, Bemelmans ran into a car and spent part of the summer in a local hospital. In the next room was a little girl who had just had an appendectomy. A crack in the ceiling over his bed looked like a rabbit. “I remembered the story my mother had told me of life in a convent school…and the little girl, the hospital, the room, the crank on the bed, the nurse…all fell into place.” Creativity happens in the empty places in a writer’s life—in Bemelmans’s case he needed the time spent in a hospital to think through his masterpiece.

Returning to New York to write the book, Bemelmans observed a French teacher who taught a class of small girls and gave them daily walks around Gramercy Park. His story begins with rhyming couplets, “In an old house in Paris/that was covered in vines/lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” The youngest and cheekiest of these girls, Madeline, fearlessly faces the removal of her appendix. The operation turns out to be such a joyous event that the other girls in the convent want an operation, too.

Legendary Viking Press editor May Massee had encouraged Bemelmans to create his first children’s book Hansi (1934), but she though this new story too sophisticated for young readers and turned it down. Hence the new publisher on the block, Simon and Schuster, ended up releasing Madeline in 1939. Although the book won a Caldecott Honor, Simon and Schuster put it out of print in 1950. Massee immediately snatched it up for the Viking list and asked Bemelmans to craft sequels, beginning with Madeline’s Rescue in 1953. From then on, a growing group of devoted fans eagerly awaited each new volume. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy read Madeline to her children and corresponded with Bemelmans. Child after child has fallen under its spell. Judy Blume, one of the most beloved children’s book writers of our era, hid her library copy of Madeline because she could not endure having it returned. As she said in Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, “Many years have passed since I hid that copy of Madeline…but I can still recite the story by heart. When my daughter was born, Madeline was the first book I bought for her. Some books you never forget. Some characters become your friends for life.”

Millions of children would agree with her—they are so happy to have a friend like Madeline. Happy birthday Ludwig Bemelmans—your hospital stay resulted in a book that has brought joy to generations of readers.

Here’s a page from Madeline:


Originally posted April 27, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Caldecott, Paris
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Madeline


  1. Sydnee says:

    As silly as this seems, I loved this story so much when I was little I dreamed of naming my child Madeline!

  2. Melissa says:

    Well, my daughter has this name (spelled different though) and we were given several copies of this book when she was born! The image above of the tiger is one of her favorite parts of the book!

  3. Michelle says:

    All three of my children (5,10, and 12) love Madeline! In fact, I called her ‘My Read Aloud Secret Weapon’ in a recent post of mine http://blog.reading-rewards.com/2011/04/my-read-aloud-secret-weapon/
    My daughter loves the tiger page so much that when her older brother is bugging her, she just looks at him and says ‘Pooh-pooh’. :-)
    Thanks for sharing Bemelman’s birthday!

  4. Jean says:

    This book was read over and over and over in our household. A story that when read aloud, is like listening to a beautiful song. Thank you, Anita.

  5. What a great story about the “birth” of Madeline!

    Madeline is a “tour de force”, a smashing creation that is so great because it seems to be so simple.

    Anita, thanks for this fabulous reminder about Madeline and her incredibly talented creator Ludwig Bemelmans.

    Just imagine if he hadn’t bumped into that car…. in 1938…

    Just imagine…

    Read Aloud Dad

  6. Star says:

    We read this book on almost a daily basis around here. I daresay I believe I love it even more than the girls!

  7. Jessica says:

    I may be 25, but I still have times where I just need to read a little Madeline! And like Sydnee, as a girl, I also considered naming my future child Madeline!

  8. Kathleen says:

    I don’t remember my discovery of Madeline as a child, I just remember always having loved the book. I even had a Madeline lunch box in the first grade – 40 years ago. I never thought about it, but maybe the early influence of Madeline is why I’m a Francophile today. Anita, before reading today’s entry it never occured to me that Madeline was published in 1939. Even as a children’s librarian I’ve never given the publication date any consideration – why bother when I always thought it was written just for me.

  9. Anita says:

    Kathleen: I completely understand that feeling of “this was written for me.” The books we really love thoughout our lives often feel that way. Thank for the comment.

  10. Jeanne Walsh says:

    Sister Patrick Joseph read this to my first grade class in 1965, and it was a revelation to me that others saw pictures in ceiling cracks, too. That was a powerful literary experience! I will always love Madeline.

  11. Kristi Hazelrigg says:

    Another classic story! I think my favorite part of the book, though, is the mysterious “13th girl” who appears at the table while Madeline is in the hospital. ;)

  12. Anita says:

    Kristi: You have a good eye! Some things just don’t get caught by copyeditors.

  13. Rodney D says:

    Though this book was a “girl’s book” in grade school, I read it anyway and fell in love with the story and the evocative illustrations. Madeline was proof to me that at a certain point, there are no “girl” or “boy” nooks, there are simply wonderful books to be enjoyed.

  14. Carolyn Burke says:

    My first memory of this book was a child when it was in McCall’s magazine. This would have been in the late fifties, I think. Does anyone else remember this?

  15. Anita says:

    Carolyn: Madeline’s Christmas appeared in the Christmas 1956 issue of McCall’s Magazine.

  16. Diane says:

    Another wonderful example of how life informs fiction.

  17. Helen Frost says:

    I wonder if Peter Sis’ daughter “Madlenka” was named for Bemelman’s Madeline.

  18. Anita says:

    Helen: Yes, she was. She’s now a teenager, hard to believe.

  19. Tess W. says:

    I remember reading this in Paris (in French ^_^) when I was seventeen, at a bookshop near the Eiffel Tower. I remember looking from the tower on the book cover to the tower a few hundred feet away from me. I also remember reading the book the summer I was eight and had to have surgery myself. Madeleine’s recovery from her surgery helped me understand that even though it was scary I would recover from mine.

  20. Denise says:

    I have a boy and a girl now teenagers but they both loved Madeline books. I had no idea my daughter shares the same birthday as the author.

  21. lynfa fisher says:

    How I loved this book so much as a child 50 years ago. It was truly magical!

  22. Erin says:

    I don’t know if I can say anything new about Madeline. I guess Iam just one more child that fell under its spell. I have a number of Madeline cloth dolls because whenever I see one at a thrift store, i can’t bear to leave it there. I love that Judy Blume hid her Madeline library book!

  23. G. Perry says:

    I discovered Madeline only as an adult.

    There is only one thing I don’t love about Madeline. I’m not the one that created the books.

  24. Anita says:

    Gordon: Yes, a good observation. He got there first!

  25. Allison D. says:

    This post made me go on a mission to find my old copy of Madeline! When it was located, I put it on my bookshelf next to my Madeline doll and my sister’s skater Madeline doll. What a wonderful book for creating childhood memories!

  26. Star says:

    This book NEVER gets old. Ever. We still read it constantly around here and it still makes us smile each time. It’s truly timeless.

  27. Loved reading about Ludwig’s creative process. He’s one of my heroes. Hugely influential in my tastes (I was a French major) and my career as a picture book author.

  28. Alejandro Mazariegos says:

    The most significant book of my childhood. Though I admit I initially felt a lot of sympathy for Miss Clavel, I eventually learned to love little Madeline for her amazing spirit.

    Bemelmans was a true artist. Simply exceptional.

  29. Anne says:

    I have told the following anecdote so often, but it just gets better as my granddaughter gets older. She was four, and totally obsessed with everything Madeline. Our extended family was on vacation on cape cod, and enjoying a lobster dinner. Kate got restless waiting for the check and I took her out onto the porch to wait while they finished up. As a man and woman came out of the restaurant they remarked on her pretty pink sundress. She proceeded to flip it up over her face while she said:”voila! Would you like to see my scar.” She had taken magic marker and drawn a perfect appendix scar, stitches and all. She is an honors French student, and this may have been her first French word.

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