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Top 100 Picture Books #80: Madeline’s Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans

#80 Madeline’s Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans (1953)
25 points

While Ludwig Bemelmans penned many a sequel of his original smash picture book hit Madeline, I think it’s fair to say (and not too much of a spoiler) that the only one of those worth its salt at all was Madeline’s Rescue.  One almost wonders if the Madeline enterprise currently in operation today would even exist were it not for the fact that M2 became as popular as M1 and won itself a Caldecott Award proper (an honor that eluded M1, which got an Honor but still . . .)

The Scholastic store describes the plot in this way: “On a walk through Paris one day with her schoolmates, Madeline trips and falls off a bridge into the Seine River. Saved by a dog in a daring rescue, Madeline, the girls, and their teacher, Miss Clavel, quickly realize that they must take the heroic dog back to the school with them. Once there, they feed her biscuits, milk, beef, and name her “Genevieve.” All is puppy heaven for six months (with the only fly in the ointment being who gets to sleep with Genevieve each night), until the trustees, led by the snobbish Lord Cucuface, come for a school inspection. Horrified at the idea of a dog in their school, the trustees cast Genevieve out onto the street. Vowing vengeance, Madeline and the girls and Miss Clavel scour the streets of Paris in search of their beloved and missing pet. The girls return home dogless and broken-hearted, but in the middle of the night, Genevieve comes back and once again, the girls can resume the argument over who gets to sleep with her each night. In a surprise ending, Genevieve has pups enough for each girl to have one, and peace is restored.”

In her 100 Best Books for Children, Anita Silvey makes mention of a Madeline’s Rescue fact that may not be widely known.  “Known for her tireless pursuit of talented authors, the editor May Massee first met Ludwig Bemelmans at a dinner at his home and published his first book, Hansi.  But Massee and several other publishers turned down Madeline because it seemed too sophisticated for children.  However, she did publish Bemelmans’s sequels, beginning with Madeline’s Rescue, and purchased the rights to reissue the original book.”  Hey, better late than never.

These days those of you interested in anything and everything Madeline related will be pleased to hear that the torch has been passed on to Bemelmans’ own heir.  John Bemelmans Marciano is the man behind the more recent Madeline books.  An interview with him is available here at Reading Rockets.  His story is rather interesting in and of itself.  As the website says, “While looking through some of his grandfather’s belongings, Marciano discovered a completed manuscript for a Madeline story with rough sketches that hinted at what the final illustrations might look like. Bemelmans Marciano took this story and developed a finished set of drawings to publish Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales, a new addition to the series his grandfather started.”  I always wondered what the deal was with that book.

  • Here are ten facts you may or may not know about Madeline.

I believe they even made it an episode of the Madeline TV show.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. My Madel(e)ine saw this book scroll by on my screen this morning and became VERY EXCITED. She’s 3, by the way, Ms. Massee– so much for too sophisticated.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      I spent a lot of time retyping “Madeline” since I wanted very badly to spell it “Madeleine”. Tell your girl that in my opinion she’s the one with the good name.

  2. We love Madeline in this house. My girls – two and four – are almost TOO fond of her for my comfort!