Don’t you just love that moment when a child makes a connection to a book? At first it’s just a story. Then, in the blink of an eye his face reflects the realization that this book has special meaning for him. Owen had such a moment yesterday with the story of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.
The book was first published in 1939 and some of the drawings and storyline are terribly out of date but that didn’t matter to Owen because the basic premise resonated deeply within him. Little Madeline, who attends a boarding school, went to the hospital to have her appendix removed. She emerged from the operation with a scar or stitches and gifts. Her classmates cried jealous tears wishing something similar would happen to them.
Owen’s brother recently took a trip to the hospital for stitches in his chin and also received plenty of attention for his trouble. Owen made the connection during our very first reading. Under the picture of an ambulance, the text read, “in a car with a red light they drove out into the night.” “Madeline is going to the hospital in an ambulance,” I explained.
“JACK went to the hospital!”
“Yes, I know.”
On the next page we see Madeline’s hospital bed with a crank. “The crank makes the bed go up and down.”
“Like Jack have?”
“Yes, Jack had a bed that moved up and down too.” I showed him a photo on my phone of Jack in his hospital bed. Owen leaned forward, to concentrate harder. He was hooked.
At the conclusion of the book he had no doubts about what was happening when the other little girls began to cry, “Boohoo! We want to have our appendix out too!”
“Them wants to go to the hospital and get stitches too,” Owen solemnly informs me.
“Yes, they do.”
“It’s not really fun to go to the hospital you know. Do you want to see Madeline’s stitches?”
Owen nodded. I got the soft Madeline doll that had come with the book when his great-Grandma gave it to his mom and aunt. “Look at her belly.” Owen pulled up her coat and moved her underpants down. He ran his finger over the black stitching representing her scar. He put the pants back and looked at me.
We did. Multiple times. We read it for the naptime story and the snack time story and just because he wanted to hear it again. With each reading, his connection grew. He traced his finger over the vines on the old house in Paris. He learned that “breaking bread,” means “eating.” He began to recite some of the couplets with me and to offer his own insights. “Them breaking they bread. Them eating it!”
He enjoyed seeing the girls brush their teeth and use umbrellas and was excited to see them ride in a “school (city transit) bus.” When the little girls “frowned at the bad” thief Owen excitedly interjected, “Him is taking all the monies!” He understood that the girls were sad because they saw someone on crutches. “Him broke his feet!”
As a child with a past history of running into the street unexpectedly, Owen really appreciated how it was that “nobody knew so well how to frighten Miss Clavel.” “She’s scared because that’s so high and she could fall down!” He took note of Madeline’s bed, the empty bed when she was in the hospital and how all the little girls got out of their beds when the doctor came.
In the middle of one night
Miss Clavel turned on her light
And said, “Something is not right!”
As I reach the word “light” I pause so Owen can contribute the last line. “Hey, somefing is wrong here!” he shouts. I smile. Things may not be right in Madeline’s world, but everything is just peachy in mine.