Monday, February 6, 2012

The book I carry around in my head

This is my favourite book from my early childhood.

Growing up in a post WW2 world, most of my books were hand-me-downs, and some of them weren't great literature (but I loved them at the time anyway). But this one, which was in the Little Golden Book imprint (I'm sure it was, though it didn't remain with that publisher) was brought home for me by my teenage sister along with a LGB version of the Twelve Dancing Princesses when I was sick in bed. (In those days mothers believed in keeping children in bed when they were sick, and I was sick a fair bit. The Robert Louis Stevenson syndrome of sick children becoming writers?)

Somehow, it got lost, or at least, didn't survive my childhood. But after I left school I bought myself another copy. By that time, in the early-mid 1970s, Madeline was one of the books approved by the women's liberation movement, and it was available at a radical bookshop, in a cheaply-produced paper covered copy that didn't age well. I still have it somewhere.

But I don't need it, because I carry this book around in my head:

In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines
In two straight lines they broke their bread
And brushed their teeth, and went to bed.

The youngest one was Madeline...

I certainly found Madeline herself an intriguing character, because of her bravery ( 'She was not afraid of mice, She loved winter, snow, and ice, And to the tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said, Pooh! Pooh!.')

and her individuality. ('And nobody knew quite so well/How to frighten Miss Clavell.')

which shows Madeline walking along the parapet of a bridge over the Seine.

To a child in 1950s Australia, who had never before heard of Paris, much of it was mystifying. The teachers (Miss Clavell) looked like nuns. And the idea of living in what was obviously a boarding school seemed strange.

Which just goes to show how much mystery and exoticism children can accommodate and accept in the books they read. And perhaps Madeline was one of the reasons I grew up to become a feminist.


  1. I was always so confused and thought the little girls orphans. But no, for Madeline gets a dollhouse from papa... I love this book too. Oh, Paris!

  2. Tres confusing, Kate! And Paris!