Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Golden Basket, by Ludwig Bemelmans

Staff review by Chris Saliba


Before writing the classic picture book Madeleine, Ludwig Bemelmans wrote and illustrated a charming short novel for children called The Golden Basket (1936). 

Two young sisters, Melisande and Celeste, travel with their father Horatio Coggeshall from London to Bruges, the main city of Belgium, and stay at a hotel called The Golden Basket. It's called this because a golden basket sits on its roof. Their first night in a foreign city is full of wonder and excitement. They get out of their warm bed and sit at the window to peer out into the Medieval city at night and marvel at its beauty. 

Soon enough the sisters meet Jan, the son of the hotel keeper, Monsieur Ter Meulen. Jan is a boy who's not averse to adventure (he has a pet a frog that can predict the weather) and he takes the girls to visit many of the city's wonderful places. In one scene the sisters visit a cathedral with their father, Horatio, and meet a group of school girls, one of which is Madeleine.

There is much to delight in this magical novel. Bemelmans describes the day-to-day working of the hotel and its characters with considerable charm. There is also much humour which is mingled with the novel's subtly surreal flavour. A favourite scene shows Jan carrying the moveable garden from inside the hotel to outside so it can be watered. So much of hotel and city life seems unconventional, yet liberating for that very reason.

The Dover edition of The Golden Basket is a special treat, printed as it is in a large format with gorgeous colour illustrations. Don't miss this delightful classic!

The Golden Basket, by Ludwig Bemelmans. Published by Dover. $22.95

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