The classic children’s book caused me to feel and understand the tragedy of the fire when I wouldn’t have otherwise
I don’t possess any personal connection to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. I’ve never even been to the City of Light. I don’t have a selfie to post or a brochure or keychain from the grand gothic masterpiece that was nearly destroyed by fire last week.
I do, however, have a copy of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, the classic 1939 children’s book, somewhere in our house.
At least, the book supposed to be here. I vaguely remember stowing it away in a box several years back in the attic for safe-keeping with other beloved and well-worn children’s books my daughter and son read with me in recliners and on couches some twenty years ago.
It was a sweet story to savor about the adventures of Miss Clavel and the eleven little girls plus Madeline, who wasn’t afraid of mice and “loved winter, snow, and ice.” The story’s closing lines, “‘Good night, little girls! Thank the Lord you are well! And now go to sleep!’ said Miss Clavel,” ended the tale every time with poignancy and satisfaction.
Because my only association with the cathedral is through Madeline, my thoughts returned to the 1940 Caldecott Honor-winning book upon hearing of the fire that swept through Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral on April 15.
Somewhere within my copy of Madeline, if I could find it, is Bemelmans’ illustration of the cathedral’s front facade with its nearly identical towers. I remember that the picture looms large on the over-sized page and appears dreary, especially since the church is depicted during a downpour.
Like thousands of others last week, I was saddened by the images of the violent flames raging through the ancient timber roof, toppling the spire, and bringing a centuries-old structure to its knees within minutes.
Seeing any building burn is difficult, but as I watched Madeline’s cathedral burn last week, it was especially so. And yes, I realize that part of my endearment to the cathedral could be chalked up to nostalgia for my kids’ childhoods; however, there was much to lose in that awful fire when one considers…
- the breadth of history the cathedral has witnessed over the centuries,
- its architectural importance,
- its Christian significance,
- and lastly, its presence in popular culture due to its appearance in Madeline and other literary favorites.
Despite the damages and loss of important areas of the cathedral, however, I do know that I gained this: a deeper appreciation for the power that a children’s book can possess. Last week, Madeline helped me to connect with others around the world saddened by the cathedral fire.
No, I haven’t been to Paris, but a classic children’s book–and not a selfie–transported me there. Thanks to Madeline, I felt and understood the loss of the fire when I wouldn’t have otherwise.