By Ludwig Bemelmans

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Introduction: Summary

In the story Madeline, Ludwig Bemelmans brings to life a feisty little girl named Madeline who has a very brave soul and is not afraid of anything. The story opens in an old house in Paris, which is home to an all girls boarding school with 12 girls and the head mistress Miss Clavel. The beginning of the story goes into detail about how the girls spend their days in Paris and of the structure in their life, as they do everything in two straight lines. Even with the routine of the boarding school, the girls were still able to travel around the city, and Madeline the smallest one of them all, took on the city with a sense of adventure, courage, and spunk. Madeline was not afraid of mice, or winter, and at the zoo she would say “Pooh-pooh” to the tiger where the other girls would hide. Her most daring adventure in the book comes when she is rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night by Miss Clavel to have her appendix removed. Following her surgery, she is visited by the other 11 girls and they were surprised by all of the toys and candy that Madeline received. However, they were not as surprised as when Madeline stood in front of all of them and showed them her new scar. The story comes to an end with the little girls crying, jealous of Madeline, "Boohoo we want to have our appendix out, too." The book won the Caldecott Honor in 1940 and has since won other awards and has been written into a series.

Literary Elements of the Text

Ludwig Bemelmans incorporated many of the literary elements of the story, such as theme, setting, and characters into the pictures in order to enhance the reader's experience of the story. The setting of the book is strongly reflected in the images, as many famous buildings and Parisian architecture are painted throughout the story. Right from the beginning, the reader is clued that the setting is Paris because on the front cover, picture above, the Eiffel Tower is painted with the girl's walking towards it. At the time of its publication, the New York Times wrote, "Mr. Bemelaman's drawings of the Opera, of Notre Dame in the rain, of the sun shining birds and children in the Luxembourg and Tuileries gardens have put an authentic Paris within the covers of this book." The pictures in this story do an excellent job incorporating the setting. The pictures also reflect the theme of the book, which is to be courageous and yourself and that there is nothing wrong with a girl being smart and strong. From the Madeline website, the author of the website describes the theme and why Madeline is such a strong character by saying, "Madeline is a gutsy little girl, and that's what makes her such a unique role model in a time when storybook princesses defined femininity for girls. Madeline gave young girls a reason to explore who they were as individuals, even if that meant being a tad disobedient. She gave girls the courage to speak their mind and showed them that there was nothing unfeminine about being smart and strong." In the beginning of the story, there are a few pages of the fearless Madeline pictured crawling on the floor playing with the mice, pictured below, walking on the edge of a bridge, and standing up to a tiger. While all the other girls are in order, the reader can see in many pictures that Madeline is an individual who is daring and strong. Not only are the pictures in this story drawn well, they enhance the meaning of the story and add to the literary elements of the text.
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Physical Features of the Book

The physical features of the book, which are size, shape, cover, endpaper, front matters, and paper, all play into the meaning of the story. The size and shape of the book is a rather long rectangular form. I think that Bemelman uses this shape because many of the pictures are very long and vertical. In the first line of the book the reader is informed, "In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines." The image of the girls in two straight lines is repeated throughout the story in a long rectangular form, which is why the pages are long and vertical. The cover of the story illustrates the girls in two straight lines walking to the Eiffel Tower. The cover immediately introduces to the reader that the setting is in Paris and the character of Madeline. In the bottom of the cover photo, the reader can see Madeline at the end of the line with bright red hair and rosy red cheeks smiling back as if she is looking straight at you. This hints to the reader that she is the heroine of the story and that she is not like all of the other girls who are facing forward. The front matters of this story are very different then the majority of pictures illustrated in the actual text because they are very bright and colorful with heavy use of the colors purple and blue. While it sticks with the setting of Paris, majority of the pictures in the story have a monotone yellow color, so it is very different. While I am not completely sure why Bemelman uses this technique, I think it is to introduce the light-hearted and playful nature of the story and to intrigue readers by the use of bright colors and well painted pictures.
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This is a picture of the front matter that is filled with bright colors, such as blue and purple.

Visual Elements of the Book

The visual elements of the pictures in the story provide a large chunk of the stories meaning and adds a lot of emotion to the story. Throughout the entirety of the story, most of the pages are all yellow. The color yellow evokes the feelings of happiness and warmth in the readers, even if they do not know it. This story is very light-hearted, fun, and loving as the girls travel Paris and are the best of friends. I think the color yellow is repeated to symbolize the happiness and playfulness of the young girls. I have chosen to analyze several photos that I truly believe encompass the overall way that visual elements contribute to meaning in the text and give further life to the characters.
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The photo above is an illustration of Madeline standing up with attitude and her head held high saying "Pooh-pooh" to the tiger. Right as I look at this photo, Madeline standing alone in the foreground catches my eye. While the other little girls are hiding in the back, Madeline is fearlessly standing in the front, face on with the tiger. In the article Comprehending Images and Multimodal Texts, a way for comprehending texts called Grammar of Visual Design is introduced. One of the ideas under Grammar of Visual design is the idea of perspective. Perspective means that since Madeline is so close to the viewers on the page, she is of more importance and the viewer has a stronger relationship with that character. The thick, vertical lines of the tiger's cage also catch my eye as I look at this photo. The lines place heavy emphasis on the strength and ferocious nature of the tiger, as it roars at the girls. Another very interesting element about this picture is how the color connects Madeline to the tiger. While majority of the photo is green, representing the nature, the color that stands out to me is red. The bright red color of Madeline's hair and the bright red tongue on the tiger show the strength, courage, and passion that both the tiger and Madeline hold. Both character's have strong characteristic's of bravery as they stand up to each other fearlessly. The final visual element that I see in this photo is shape. As the other 11 girl's hide around Miss Clavel, they form a circle for protection and comfort, representing Miss Clavel as a mother-figure who is protecting her children. This photo contains many of the visual elements and it helps develop the characters of Madeline as the bravest girl of them all and of Miss Clavel as a mother figure.
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Unlike the last photo, my eye is not drawn to one specific part of this image because there is so much going on. This story follows a progressive plot and this image illustrates the moments of the climax as Madeline is being rushed to the hospital. The colors of this image perfectly match the content of the story because they shift from a happy and calming yellow color to darker blacks and reds. The black and red tone of this photo gives the reader the emotions that something is wrong and all the other characters are very worried about Madeline. On the left side of the picture in the windows, you can see the 11 girls looking as Madeline is taken away, with a very sad and concerned look about them. The lines on the image also suggest the quick motion and movement of the ambulance to the hospital. I think this is a very powerful image of the climax because it incorporates all of the visual elements to enhance the severity and suspense of the situation.

Artistic Style and Media

Bemelman's used the artistic style of expressionism. Expressionistic art is used to convey and evoke certain feelings by distorting external reality and using provocative colors and shapes. This style is seen throughout the story through the illustrations and the feelings they evoke at different points. When the girls are having fun and the story is happy, the pictures of yellow and distorted images create a happy feeling. However, when the story is in the climax and the colors are dark, the reader feels anxious and nervous for Madeline. Overall, the style throughout the story is expressionism.

The artistic media that Bemelmans uses to create the images is a combination of ink and watercolor. When painting, he made very quick, confident, and bold markings while also incorporating dry brush techniques. Each picture looks like its own painting and they all tie into the words they are incorporated with. The style of the pictures are very simple, while still bringing the characters and settings to life. The characters appear to be a mix between life like drawings and stick figures. The faces are very simplistic with only eyes and a mouth, making it very easy to understand what the girls are feeling.

Elements of Illustration

The last technique that the author uses to connect meaning to the pictures are the elements of illustration, such as the framing, arrangement, page turn, and narrative sequence. On every page, the pictures are framed by the white background. The bold white frames draw the readers attention to the picture and the action in the scene. Each picture is also a stand alone picture, different from the picture on the next page. The picture directly interplays with the words below it on the page, making each picture individual and unique. The arrangement of the pictures mainly adheres to one picture per page. In the beginning and end of the book, besides the climax, there is one picture per page. However, when the doctor comes to the house and rushes Madeline to the hospital, there are four images spread over two pages. This arrangement is due to the heightened action of the story and fast pace of the sequence. This picture book is very appropriate for younger ages and children because the page turns are very quick and it keeps the story flowing. There are not many words on each page and the sentences flow from page to page, with only one word on some pages. This makes it very easy to follow the story and keep the reader engaged. The elements of illustration enhance the meaning of the story because they add draw the reader's attention to the images and what is happening in the image.
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This photo is a picture of the two pages with multiple images on them. It is clear to see the hurried sequence of events as the doctor rushes to get Madeline to the hospital. By putting multiple images on the page, it adds to the readers feeling of suspense and nerves during the climax.

Conclusion: Overall Thoughts

Madeline is a timeless classic that uses a plethora of visual and literary elements to combine the text with the illustrations. As a whole, the story does not have very many words, so the reader must look to the pictures to gain deeper meaning and associate the text with a visual. Bemelman does a great job interplaying the text and the illustrations, as the images add emotions, humor, and playfulness to the words. The images in this story also help bring the characters to life and add to their persona. Madeline is the only one out of all 12 of the girls with a personality, name, or perspective, making her the main focus of the story. This is clear to understand from the text, however the images enhance her individualism by illustrating her adventuring and being brave by herself while the rest of the girls hold back. Madeline's energetic, spunky, courageous, mischievous, and strong personality shines through the images in the story and makes the reader fall in love with her and the book.

Works Cited

Bemelmans, L. (1967). Madeline. New York: Viking Press.

History. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2016, from

Serafini, F. (2011). Expanding Perspectives for Comprehending Visual Images in Multimodal Texts. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.