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.
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…
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.
Books can provide more than just entertainment. Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment and follow my blog for more stories on travel, art, and education.
“She can’t keep going, but she does. She and the fire column in movement, she forward. It spins upward a hallucinatory dance. The neighbor and her children have forgotten motion; their screams have left them behind
the tin ceiling
Did she take note here?
This is the moment my life changes. I can’t finish the dishes, wash my unmentionables, get dinner ready for Dirk and the children before it’s too late. It’s going to happen. It’s happening now.”
This is an excerpt from “An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought off Dutch Pete,” one of nineteen chapters from Kin Types, a 30-page book of prose and poems by author and fellow blogger Luanne Castle. Follow her blogs here: The Family Kalamazoo and Entering the Pale.
With Kin Types, Castle enters the lives of her ancestors by exploring their pasts through genealogy and the family stories, photographs, and ephemera that reveal that genealogy. Just take a look at Luanne’s blogs to see her comprehensive family explorations.
However, because the past is often defined by what little we know of our ancestors, that knowledge can be scanty. That’s my situation.
So I ordered Luanne’s book to gather ideas for my own family history writing project about a 1930 barnstorming airplane crash that killed my grandmother’s two younger brothers. (Read this post for more about the accident.)
All I have left of the tragedy are photographs, letters of sympathy, yellowed newspaper clippings, locks of hair. How can I ever understand this history fully? Perhaps by doing what Luanne did, that is, entering the lives of her ancestors via genealogy, photographs and ephemera.
Kin Types will inspire you if you wish to research your own family history or simply desire to connect with your ancestors through the power of writing.
If you enjoyed this post, click “like” so others may find it more easily. Follow this blog for more articles and updates on my project regarding the 1930 airplane crash. If you are a middle school teacher, check out my teaching blog.