Revisiting your Childhood in New York City: Madeline and More

Twelve little girls in two straight lines…

by Katherine Aliano Ruiz

“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines 
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines 
In two straight lines they broke their bread 
And brushed their teeth and went to bed. 
They left the house at half past nine 
In two straight lines in rain or shine– 
The smallest one was Madeline”

For anyone who’s a fan of Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline book series, those lines are a treasured part of their childhood memories. Growing up, I had those lines memorized and would read them over and over again in my Madeline books. This childhood love for Madeline is what led to my older sister and I going to The New York Historical Society’s exhibit on Bemelmans’ artwork and stories, with a specific focus on his beloved Madeline stories. The exhibit was beautiful and provided a timeline for his artwork and books as well as detailing the birth of Madeline. It was interesting to learn how Bemelman’s injected real life references in his stories and the influence his books had on a range of people, including former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy who wrote to Bemelmans about co-writing a story where Madeline visits the White House. At the center of the exhibit was a blue couch and desk full of Madeline books where my sister and I sat and leafed through pages of the beautiful illustrations that brightened our childhoods. Walking through the exhibit was an experience tinged in nostalgia—seeing Genevieve the dog in her early stages and large, beautiful drawings of Pepito and Madeline in the circus.

Afterwards, my sister and I were eager to go to the Madeline-themed tea party that the museum offered every day. When we approached a woman to ask her about it, she lamented that the tea party was only for children and adults accompanying them. It hit us that a 24 year old and an 18 year old were obviously not the target audience for the tea party. Even though we were significantly older than when we first held the Madeline books in our hands, its lasting impact had made us forget that to most people, Madeline was considered a children’s book. But anyone who went to the exhibit would notice that it was full of adults. Adults who, just like us, had sat on the blue couch in the museum and re-read a Madeline story or two with a smile before going on their way. As we walked around the museum’s shop, we saw a little girl—no older than eight years old—playing with a Genevieve stuffed animal and clutching a large Madeline book under her arm. We weren’t the first generation to love Madeline and we certainly won’t be the last. Leaving the museum I felt that being allowed to revisit my childhood for one afternoon was a nice, welcome, and bittersweet escape from the mounting pressures of college and pre-adulthood.

In the spirit of rekindling my inner child at the Madeline exhibit, here are some places around New York City that mix childhood memories with current interests for anyone looking to get away from college stress.

Alice’s Tea Cup
West 73rd Street and Columbus Ave 
With multiple locations around New York City, Alice’s Tea Cup has a long list of delicious teas and wonderful scones and food to munch on. The Alice in Wonderland theme is a definite plus and provides a nice cozy feeling as you drink tea with friends or a book.

Balto Statue in Central Park 
East Drive at East 67th Street 
The Balto Statue in Central Park provides just the spot to enjoy the changing leaves and nice fall afternoons of early November. Balto was a sled dog who saved Alaska’s children from a diphtheria epidemic in January 1925 by delivering medicine over the frozen tundra. Balto’s story was made into a 1995 animated movie that many a 90s child watched and adored. Make a stop at the Balto Statue as you sip on some coffee or tea to get away from midterm stress.

Matilda on Broadway (Lottery and Standing Room) 
The Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street
Like Madeline, Roald Dahl’s Matilda is a beloved children’s story that continues to comfort and inspire kids years after its first publication. Matilda: The Musical is a Tony-award winning take on the classic story that any fan of the Matilda book or movie will love. The lottery ($27) and standing room ($27) policies can be found online for anyone interested.

Have any other favorite spots in New York that bring out the kid in you? Let us know in the comments!

Katherine Aliano Ruiz is a sophomore at Barnard and Managing Editor of The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.

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