If the jacket photo looks familiar, but the name isn’t ringing any bells, it may be that you’re more familiar with the work of John’s grandfather, Ludwig Bemelmans, who wrote the original Madeline books. John Bemelmans Marciano has carried on the family tradition with three additional Madeline books (Madeline and the Cats of Rome, Madeline Loves Animals, and Madeline Says Merci). He uses the same materials Ludwig Bemelmans used in his illustrations, and the rhyming text has a similar cadence. It’s a wonderful, almost seamless, way to extend the story of Madeline and her friends.
In Madeline at the White House, the girls march “in two straight lines” to the White House to visit the daughter of the President, a charming young girl nicknamed Candle due to her flaming red hair (it also happens to rhyme with Randall, which is the last name of the President and his family).
The story takes place in spring, and references are made to the Easter egg roll on the White House lawn, and a magic carpet of cherry blossoms that sweep Madeline and Candle across Washington, DC to take in the sights – the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Capitol, and the Washington Monument. Additional iconic illustrations include the Oval Office, Lincoln Bedroom, and Arlington National Cemetery.
Ludwig Bemelmans is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and took great pride in having become a US citizen and rising to the level of Second Lieutenant in the US Army during WWI.
Madeline at the White House was a concept that Ludwig Bemelmans was working on at the time of his death. He was, apparently, in contact with Jacqueline Kennedy about the book, under the working title Madeline Visits Caroline.
At the author event, children sat on the floor while Mr. Marciano read Madeline at the White House (taking care that the audience – young and old – could see the illustrations, and engaging them by asking questions or leaving off a rhyming word for them to fill it). He shared some additional insight about his grandfather and the inspiration for Madeline, then signed books and posed for pictures; it was such a treat for everyone; and heartening to see the young audience hanging on his every word.
John Bemelmans Marciano has written several non-fiction books for adults, including Anonyponymous, a must-read for word nerds!