How did a girl from western Colorado find her home in Germany of all places?

It’s a long story, but it can all be boiled down to Madeline, a beloved children’s book written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans. When I was a child, I found the Madeline books in my public library and I was enthralled. Who is this girl who isn’t afraid of anything? Where is this Parisian house covered in vines? Can I go there? What language do they speak there? French? Can I learn that language?

Madeline written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans
Madeline written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans

These books lit a spark in my soul. I wanted to speak that language and visit this France place. Over the years, I bought computer games and books that would teach me basic French. I poured over books about France and the French. And when it came for me to learn a language in high school, I couldn’t select the French course fast enough. I drank in the language and inhaled the culture; I was insatiable. Learning the French language felt like remembering how to ride a bike; it came naturally and felt like home. When college came, I knew what I needed to do – I was going to learn to be a French teacher and I was going to go France. And so, I did. I moved myself to Tours, France, then to Luxembourg, and then finally to Germany. Had it not been for Madeline, I would not be here.

Madeline is brave, a quality that I still find myself needing to tap into. When Madeline says “Poo poo” to the tiger in the zoo, she taught me to not take my fears so seriously. Sure, they might look quite threatening, but perhaps there’s a different way to approach them.

Madeline is precocious and adventurous even if it puts her into some sticky situations. But those sticky situations are where we experience life in all of its complicated richness. She showed me how to be a daring and curious girl and taught me the value of asking why.

And, quite significantly for me, Madeline is French. She introduced me to languages and cultures outside of my own and profoundly changed my life trajectory. For all of this, Madeline will always be my heroine.

Be brave!

Rebecca Davis
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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