“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” Who doesn’t remember the opening lines of this childhood favorite? Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans was first published in 1939 and four of the six original stories are set in Paris. They are perfect for creating a tour and an introduction to some of the most popular sites in the city.
In the original, Madeline, the twelve little girls in two straight lines leave the house at half past nine in rain or shine. Even a case of appendicitis doesn’t interrupt their routine much. On their walks, you see the Eiffel Tower, the Opera, the Place Vendome, The Hotel des Invalides, Notre Dame, the Garden at Luxembourg, the Church of the Sacre Coeur, the Tuilleries Gardens and the Louvre. The rhyming language is great for younger children and Madeline is very easy to relate to.
In Madeline’s Rescue, Madeline manages to fall into the Seine, much to the horror of Miss Clavel, the nun in charge of the girls. Fortunately she is rescued by a quick thinking dog, but there is only one dog and 12 little girls. Needless to say, there is more than enough love for the dog to go around! Unfortunately, the board of trustees does not approve of pets and the dog must be sent away. The girls aren’t willing to settle for that, and as soon as the trustees leave they all go looking all over the city for Genevieve without any luck. Distraught, they return to the school; but late that night Genevieve shows up with her own surprise.
Instead of going for an unexpected swim in the Seine like Madeline, we’d recommend a boat tour. There are lots of options ranging from short tours to longer dinner cruises and a range of prices for different budgets. Madeline falls into the Seine from Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris with a view of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in the background. Madeline is carried past the Institute de France which houses the Académie Française, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Académie des Sciences, and Académie des Beaux-Arts. When looking for Genevieve, they walk up to Montmartre. They pass Les Deux Magots (which still exists), and search Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Paris which includes the graves of Chopin, Bizet, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison among many others. Their final stop is probably the Tuilleries Gardens with the statue of Diane Chasseresse being viewed by Miss Clavel.
In Madeline and the Bad Hat, the Spanish ambassador moves in next door with a little boy, Pepito, who appears to be the same age as Madeline. However, much to her disgust, he is “a bad hat”, playing tricks on everyone around him interspersed with short lived periods of good behavior. When they buy him a tool kit as an outlet for his energy, he builds a guillotine for the chickens. They think he is taking food to feed some dogs, but it turns out he thought it would be fun to have the dogs chase a cat. In the end, he receives his comeuppance and has to be rescued by Madeline and Miss Clavel. Never doing things by halves, Pepito turns over a new leaf, but goes to the other extreme, wanting to release all of the animals in the zoo. But Madeline steps in again; stopping him from releasing the lions just in time and convincing him that he is no longer the “bad hat.” Their adventures include views of the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the river Seine, and what is probably the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes, a zoo that has been around since 1794.
In Madeline and the Gypsies, the girls’ new best friend, Pepito, invites them to the Gypsy Carnival which is set up near the Cathedral of Notre Dame. All is going well until a storm hits. Rushing off to get out of the rain, Miss Clavel and the rest of the girls accidentally leave Madeline and Pepito behind at the top of the Ferris Wheel! With Pepito’s help, Madeline is rescued and the children are tucked safe and sound into the Gypsy’s wagon. The next morning, the children wake up at the Chateau de Fontainebleau. They think it is a wonderful life, not having to go to school, brush their teeth, or go to bed at night. Madeline and Peptio gleefully travel through France, performing in Chartres, Mont St. Michel near Normandy, and the walled city of Carcassone. In the town of Honfleur, Pepito and Madeline decide to send Miss Clavel a note letting her know they are doing well. Looking at the postmark, Miss Clavel and the other girls quickly set off after them. The Gypsy mama sees them coming in her crystal ball and hides the children in a lion skin. Madeline and Pepito have great fun pretending to be a lion, but they eventually want to get out of the costume. However, everyone they approach thinks they are a lion and is too scared to help them. They sadly return to the gypsy circus at Deauville only to discover Miss Clavel sitting in the front row. Happily reunited, they return to Paris where much to Miss Clavel’s consternation, Pepito and Madeline teach all of the girls the tumbling tricks they learned in the Circus!
The Madeline stories with repetitive, rhyming language are great for young children. Whether you read one or all of the Madeline stories, they are a must read before you take your children on a trip to Paris!