Books

A new generation gets to meet Madeline

MADELINE AND THE CATS OF ROME

By John Bemelmans Marciano. Viking. Ages 4-8. $17.99.

I recently introduced my daughter to a friend I hope she'll have for a long time: Madeline.

Snuggled together, we picked up not the first Madeline story but the first one in 50 years. “Madeline and the Cats of Rome” hit bookshelves on Sept. 4. It was written and illustrated by John Bemelmans Marciano, grandson of creator Ludwig Bemelmans.

Madeline devotees will rightfully think “magnifique.” This installment goes perfectly with the six before it. It looks and sounds just like Madeline.

The antics and the drama – this time our heroine gets mistakenly caught up with a camera thief and ends up saving a colony of cats – are pure Madeline, too.

My redheaded daughter is too young to appreciate Madeline yet. At 21 months, she simply enjoyed pointing to all the cats and Madeline's dog, Genevieve. But I hope Lucy will grow to love her. There are just two things I wish were in the newest Madeline.

First, I looked for a dedication and was sorry there wasn't one. I expected Marciano to send out love for his grandfather or to thank decades of fans.

Second, the story should have started more like the others. The original books begin pretty much like the first:

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.

They smiled at the good and frowned at the bad and sometimes they were very sad.

They left the house at half past nine in two straight lines in rain or shine – the smallest one was Madeline.

Marciano shortens the intro a lot and gets the girls going on their trip from Paris to Rome. What I missed most: the reminder that the smallest was Madeline.

Several of the original books also repeat a description of Madeline's bold character.

She was not afraid of mice.

She loved winter, snow and ice.

To the tiger in the zoo Madeline just said, “Pooh pooh!”

I missed that, too.

But by cutting to the chase, there's plenty of action. Madeline and her dog soon are taking off after a thief.

Madeline took up the chase – first a thief and now a race!

Into the fountain with a splash, through the market in a dash.

Across the river they kept the tail, but coming back they lost the trail.

Madeline said, “There is no justice – that little thief has completely lost us.”

One thing that struck me at the end “as a cat let out a happy meow. And now, dear reader, we bid you … CIAO!” was this: There were just six other Madeline tales. This little redhead made quite an impression in just a handful of stories.

We fans can now hope there are another six – or more – in store.

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