John Bemelmans Marciano: Reviving a Classic Children’s Book Series


Photo by Austin McAllister

You could say he joined the family business: Marciano’s grandfather, Ludwig Bemelmans, was the Austrian author who created Madeline, the seven-year-old French girl who lives in a Catholic boarding school. Marciano has since taken up the series, and in October Penguin will publish his sixth Madeline book, Madeline and the Old House in Paris. (His grandfather also wrote six Madeline books.) Taking over such an iconic character was tricky. “When I first started off, I felt the need to make my statement with the Madeline books,” he tells us. “But since I’ve branched out to doing non-fiction books for adults”—his grandfather also wrote non-fiction for adults—“and middle-grade fiction for kids”—like the forthcoming The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield, illustrated by Sophie Blackall—“I am increasingly happy to keep the books in much the original vein, while of course allowing myself to explore my own interests and create new characters for Madeline to meet.”

When Marciano meets new characters in his own life, it’s often in Red Hook, where he now lives. “Before that, I spent about half-a-dozen years in Carroll Gardens, but always looked longingly across the BQE,” he tells us. “I’m happy to say it wasn’t a case of the grass always being greener—it really is better over here. So long as you don’t need the subway on a daily basis. And you don’t mind knowing everybody
on your block.” That’s all there is; there isn’t any more.

Which neighborhood do you live in?
I live in Red Hook. Before that, I spent about half-a-dozen years in Carroll Gardens, but always looked longingly across the BQE. I’m happy to say it wasn’t a case of the grass always being greener—it really is better over here. So long as you don’t need the subway on a daily basis and you don’t mind knowing everybody on your block.

What did your parents do? Did the writer-artist genes skip a generation?
I grew up on a family horse farm. I don’t think the writer gene skipped a generation—my mother is one of the best storytellers I know.

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