I have had several occasions to read "Madeline" over the years, yet had never read anything about her. So learning that she had celebrated her 60th birthday was something of a surprise because I did not think of this first story of that irrepressible little girl as something that was first published on the eve of World War II. But the bigger surprise was learning that "Madeline" was not originally written and published in France, which I had always assumed was the case. That means all of those times I was reading this book and wondering what it would read like in the orignal French, I was completely off the mark. Live and learn.
Ludwig Bemelmans was actually born in 1898 in that part of the Tyrol which is now known as Merano, Italy, and came to the United States in 1914. A painter and illustrator, Bemelmans contributed covers to "The New Yorker," and also started writing fiction. His first children's book, "Hansi," was published in 1934. A world traveler and true cosmopolite, Bemelmans wrote and illustrated "Madeline" in 1939 but had trouble finding a publisher because most editors felt that despite its humorous verse and simple artwork the book was too sophisticated for children (Soon & Schuster originally published the book, although the rest of the series would be published by Viking, Bemelmans usual publisher). Bemelmans named his most popular creation for his wife, Madeleine Freund, whom he had married in 1935. They had a daughter named Barbara, who would provide inspiration for some of the Madeline books.