When I was four years old, I memorized Ludwig Bemelmans’ “Madeline.” I could recite it cover-to-cover, and I did, for any adult who would listen. I’ve lost this ability, and I’m sure I wouldn’t get the same reaction now. But the words — and their rhythm and their rhymes — still feel like they live somewhere deep in my bones. In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines . . . If you feed me the first few words of a line, I can finish it off.
I think I was attached to Madeline because I saw myself in her. Here are the ways that I was like Madeline: My name was Madeline. I was a girl. I was small. I’m sure I smiled at the good and frowned at the bad. Sometimes, certainly, I was very sad.
Here are the ways I was unlike her: I pronounced Madeline with a short “i,” so the rhyme scheme didn’t quite work with my name. I did not live with 12 little girls in two straight lines, though I’m sure that sounded like a dream to me. I was much more likely to be comforted by the strict order and routine that Madeline is always trying to break out of. And I didn’t have her daring spirit — I was a quiet little child, fearful of time-outs and physical danger. To the tiger in the zoo, I most certainly would not have said “Pooh-pooh.” I would’ve been one of the other 11 girls. I would have stayed in my straight line, and I probably would have been pretty annoyed by Madeline.
But I still hold on to the idea that Madeline is a part of me. Maybe I see her as a stand-in for my younger self. The text of “Madeline” feels like a language that I share with four-year-old me: each of us read the exact same words and saw the exact same illustrations with the exact same eyes. The crack in the ceiling that had the habit of sometimes looking like a rabbit looks exactly the same in 2023 as it did in 2006. Maybe this is why rereading any picture book as an adult is so compelling. Rarely do we have such a concrete, unchanging connection to the people we were as children.
I had a surgery a few months ago that left me with significant scars. Sometimes, when I worry about them, my mind turns to Madeline, proudly lifting her shirt to show off the surgical scar on her stomach. And I feel grateful that this brave little French girl is somewhere inside of me.
-Madeline Art ’25
Don’t read this book unless you are interested in stories that leave a scar. Lemony Snicket doesn’t care much for innocence or joy and doesn’t cater to those who do. I wrote my first will when I was five, however. It seems that falling in love with “A Series of Unfortunate Events” was inevitable.
I was six and sick of happiness. I knew how to eavesdrop, and so I had learned about the world. I knew things that would scare adults and was weary of pretending I didn’t. This is true of most every child, I believe. What Lemony Snicket offered was recognition. He never hid darkness or pretended anything would end up alright. When asked to describe his writing process, he said that he thought of the worst possible thing that could happen to his characters, then wrote it down. From this I — and so many others — were finally reassured that our lives didn’t have to be perfect to fit in stories. Bad things could happen, as we knew they did, and it was worth carrying on. Throw in some humor and it might even be enjoyable.
Over the years Snicket has never lost relevance. I now know his first book is an allusion to Lolita, and I suppose I should be thankful I didn’t know that when I first started reading. I know who Beatrice is. I know about secret codes and hidden messages and that good things don’t always stay good. I also ended up with a tattoo. Not the best influence, perhaps, but the one I needed.
— Bluebell Carroll ’25
While most people know Norman Bridwell for “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” somehow, only “The Witch Next Door” ended up on my childhood bookshelf.
The book tells the story of two children whose neighbor is a witch. She’s unique, but the children realize right away that there’s nothing wrong with her differences. It’s a story that stands the test of time.
I loved this book. With charmingly simple yet quirky illustrations and an endearing, positive message, “The Witch Next Door” was a joy to read. And I read it all the time. To my five-year-old self, this was the peak of literature.
I misplaced my copy at some point along the years, but if it ended up in the hands of another kid who could enjoy it — it wasn’t a loss.
— Annie Sidransky ’25
Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” are the most peculiar of children’s books, because they are not quite for children. Yet I devoured them when I was a child. The 13-book-long story of the plight of the incredibly intelligent — and also very rich — Baudelaire children as they struggled to protect themselves and their enormous fortune from the dastardly struggling actor and serial murderer, Count Olaf, captivated me when I first read them in elementary school. I owe many thanks to the many authors of my favorite books growing up for bestowing upon me the interest in writing stories of my own. But to Lemony Snicket, I perhaps owe the most. His sarcastic wit, tongue-in-cheek jokes, and satirical allusions allowed me to discover that writing could be more than just hungry caterpillars and cats in hats — though I will cherish those stories too. “A Series of Unfortunate Events” — with its toxic mushrooms, austere academies and evil optometrists — always insisted on the power of a good book. Libraries always came in handy for the Baudelaires, just as they came in handy for me. I found my love for reading in my local library, but I found the joy of writing in the works of Lemony Snicket.
— Jessai Flores ’23
I was one of those kids that owed their (universally experienced, as far as I’m concerned) Greek mythology phase entirely to the Percy Jackson series. Though this series is technically middle grade, I started reading it before middle school, and it absolutely shaped my childhood in a seemingly—at the time—huge way. When I was younger, Rick Riordan was almost a sort of god to me, both as a writer and a reader. If he wrote it, I would read it, and much more often than not, I would adore it. Some of my earliest attempts at fiction were essentially badly plagiarized Riordan plotlines (a fact I can admit without severe embarrassment now that I’m this far removed temporally). Percy Jackson also happened to give me some of my first fictional crushes. To say that this trend (that started with Percy Jackson himself) continued into the present day would not be inaccurate. My more recent attempts at fiction are now detached from the PJO tradition, so to say, but while writing, I still try to think about how Riordan writes humor and character, so it has had a sort of visible and lasting effect on me. Though I was fairly young when I first read the Percy Jackson series, it’s one of the few book series I can pick up even now and still feel obsessed with. Bonus points for the fact that I will absolutely be tuning into the new TV show coming out in about a year—and that my standards for any television adaptation of Percy Jackson in particular are exceedingly high.
-Rena Lin ’23