Friday, October 3, 2008

Madeline and the Cats of Rome

What do I like about this new Madeline book written and illustrated by John Bemelmans Marciano? (Marciano is the grandson of Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the original Madeline books.)

Well, I like the title; it's evocative and promises a good story. I like the cover. It is the most successful of Marciano's attempts to reproduce his grandfather's artistic style. And I have to give him points for his meticulous preparation. According to an AP article,

Marciano meticulously practiced Ludwig's line techniques, tracking down which pen nibs he preferred. First, Marciano blew up drawings from some of Ludwig's originals and sketched them in pencil, then placed clear velum on top and worked in pen and ink over and over again.

'I went over his lines less for the style than actually wanting to learn what his literal strokes were," he said. "How long they were. I was almost meditating over what he did. When I was ready to actually do the book I threw all that stuff away and just kind of went with it."

But however well Marciano has captured the mechanics of his predecessor's style, I think that there is still a tad less life in his artwork, perhaps because it is so studied.

Where the book really fails is in the text. Rhymed narrative is extremely hard to do, and Marciano's is just lame. The original Madeline books were never very easy to read aloud because of the way the text scans, but a skilled reader, with care, can pull off a smooth reading. I would never want to read aloud Madeline and the Cats of Rome. Marciano's syntax is annoying, his rhythm limps, and many of his rhymes are a real stretch. I am definitely not buying this for the granddaughters even though they are big fans of the original Madeline.

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