Petite Sophisticate

Madeline inspired a genre of whimsical children’s literature set in stylish cities that appeal to lovers of art and fashion alike. Along with Madeline (1939), two others stand out in style: Eloise (1955) and Henley: A New York Tail (2005).

Madeline01aLudwig Bemelmans drew from many sources to create Madeline. When he was hospitalized next to a young girl who had just had her appendix removed, a nun brought her soup. Bemelmans remembered the stories his mother told him about life in a convent school and began to write the story in his head.

madeline 02He named his main character after his wife, Madeline, but he modeled her personality after his daughter, Barbara. Although many mistake the Parisian convent schooled girls as orphans, they are not. Madeline’s “papa” sends her a doll when she has her appendix removed and later in the series, the girls visit their parents for Christmas. Madeline is the smallest of the girls and the only one with red hair. All of the girls have French names—and even Madeline’s dog is named Genevieve.

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Bemelmans published six books in the Madeline series during the 1940’s and 1950’s. In 1954, he was awarded the Caldecott Medal. Bemelmans illustrated all six of his books with rich, colorful watercolor paintings of Paris scenes (and London scenes in “Madeline in London”) and drew some simple animated black line drawings on yellow backgrounds. The books are as popular for their charming illustrations as they are for their clever rhymes and adventurous main character.

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In 1947, The Carlyle Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side was the city’s premier luxury residential hotel. Ludwig Bemelmans was commissioned to paint large-scale murals in the hotel bar. Bemelmans transformed the bar with whimsical scenes of Central Park. Instead of receiving pay for his murals, Bemelmans exchanged his work for a year and a half of accommodations at The Carlyle for himself and his family.
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The bar was later renamed “Bemelmans Bar” . I had the pleasure of seeing Bemelmans Bar when I was dining at the Carlyle last summer. The murals are full of life and seem to take you back to another time in New York history. You can visit Bemelmans Bar for “Madeline Tea” on Saturdays where children can dig into petite banana splits and Eiffel Tower hot fudge sundaes.

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Eloise was created by film actress and St. Louis native, Kay Thompson, and artist Hilary Knight. In addition to Eloise, Thompson is known for her role as the Diana Vreeland inspired character opposite Audrey Hepburn in “Funny Face”.

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Although it is rumored that Eloise was modeled after Thompson’s goddaughter, Liza Minnelli, Thompson insisted that she herself was Eloise! Thompson lived in a penthouse apartment at the Plaza in Manhattan—just like Eloise. Readers join Eloise on her mischievous adventures with her pets–a dog named Weenie, a pigeon named Emily and a turtle named Skipperdee — and Nanny, who fills in for Eloise’s always-absent mother.

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Thompson originally did not intend for Eloise to be a children’s book. She called it “Kay Thompson’s Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups”. However, the book received a lot of press attention and children became acquainted with the story of the energetic little girl who freely runs the halls of the Plaza.

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Hilary Knight illustrated the book with black line drawings. The drawings either have touches of pink or they are on a pink background. The illustrations are as lively as the little character that they portray. Thompson and Knight collaborated on four Eloise books.

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Fans of Eloise can visit the Plaza hotel at Fifth Avenue and Central Park for “The Eloise Shop”.

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Guests may relax in the stylish pink Living Room, visit the Fashion Room that is filled with Eloise costumes and Eloise merchandise, the Library Room where guests may enjoy views of Central Park and watch their favorite Eloise movie clips or enjoy story time. Visitors can also have “Rawther Fancy” tea parties and birthday parties. And for the big spenders…you can rent out the Eloise themed suite decorated by fashion designer, Betsey Johnson, for just over $1,000 per night! “Charge it please, thank you very much.”

madeline 16When a new book “Henley: A New York Tail” (written and illustrated by Julie Muszynski) was published, at last there was another book to add to this chic collection of fashionable children’s tales.

madeline 17Henley tells the story of a Japanese Chin who is adopted by Lulu Ziminski, “fashion maven extraordinaire”. Henley enjoys the life of luxury with Lulu as they have breakfast on the terrace of her posh New York penthouse, try on gems at “Harry Woofston”, dine at the “Fur Seasons” and get pampered at the “Elizabeth Arfden” salon. Eloise even makes a cameo in the book when Henley visits Eloise and her dog, Weenie, for a play date!

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Muszynski, who is a graduate of Parsons School of Design, has worked as a fashion stylist for over a decade. For “Henley”, Muszynski chose a mixture of artwork from her detailed line drawings, reprinted post cards and pamphlets, fold out spreads, flaps and pull outs, and old photographs.

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“Henley on Safari” was published in 2012…

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and Myszynski is working on a third book in the series, “Henley in Hollywood”, set to publish in 2014.

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Muszynski was no doubt influenced by Bemelmans and Thompson. Her story is reminiscent of the glamour of old New York.
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These books appeal to children and adults with fun, sophistication, and adventure. A young girl who experiences unique adventures in Paris with her school friends; a young girl with boisterous energy who looks for mischief while living with her nanny in the most famous hotel in all of Manhattan; and a little royal dog who is lucky enough to get adopted by a stylish New York socialite. These books are filled page after page with style and class. They are timeless. I look forward to more books in this new/old genre!


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