John Bemelmans Marciano says that “it really, really helped that my grandfather, Ludwig Bemelmans, had created the Madeline books and left a story unfinished for me to work on.” And that Marciano has done. “Madeline at the White House” (Viking Juvenile) is the latest book Marciano has written about the smallest of 12 girls -- and only redhead -- who lives “in an old house in Paris that was covered in vines.” Other books by Marciano include “Toponymity: An Atlas of Words” and “Aponyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words.”
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
What sparked your imagination for your newest book – Madeline at the White House?
As a kid, the only place I really remember visiting was Washington. My mother had gone to college at American University and still had friends in the area and we made two or three trips to visit. The monuments have stayed so vivid in my mind after all these years that I still perceive them as I did as a kid.
Your grandfather was Ludwig Bemelmans? How has his work inspired you?
Most obviously, in continuing on with Madeline. But he's inspired me in other ways, I think most especially that he always looked at the world with a clear eye—he never tried to recreate what he had done before.
What tips or advice can you share with young students to encourage their creative talents?
Write and draw only because you enjoy it. But always remember that art is communication, and expression must be done in a way that others can understand it. Be true to yourself but always think about the person looking at your work for the first time.
Can you suggest a fun writing or drawing topic to get them started?
Take an article from a newspaper and correct it. I mean, make it shorter, make it interesting, make it funny—make it your own. And re-draw the pictures that come with it. It's important to use other sources, and make them your own.
How do you decide on themes for your books?
By choosing whatever I'm interested in and want to learn more about. Or something that makes me laugh.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
Enormously important. For non-fiction books that I write, the need for it is obvious; when it comes to a Madeline book, it has to do with getting the details correct, like that the sun is setting in the west and not east.
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
Anything by E.B. White. Horton Hatches an Egg. Three Robbers. Amandina by Sergio Ruzzier.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Realize that a book is a world to play in. The characters and images that an author and artist come up with become yours as soon as you pick up the book, to do with as you please.
Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?
The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield. It's my first middle-grade reader, and the first book I have written that I'm not illustrating myself. (I'm working with Sophie Blackall, of Ivy + Bean fame.) It's about a horrible little boy who gets nine lives surgically implanted into him from a cat, and goes about wasting them all.
If you weren’t creating children’s books, what do you think you would be doing?
Running a pizzeria.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?