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May Massee: As Her Author-Illustrators See Her

by Ludwig Bemelmans

About seven years ago a typographer brought Miss Massee to my house for dinner. It was a dreary building of six rooms in a noisy neighborhood. The windows of my living room looked out at a cobweb of telegraph wires, a water tank, and a Claude Neon sign that flashed “Two Pants Suits at $15.00.” To hide this mise en scène, and because I was homesick for my mountains, I had painted outside of my windows a field with blue gentians, the foothills around Innsbruck, and a peasant house with a Forester sitting in front of it, on his lap a wire-haired dachshund, and a long pipe dividing his white beard. “You must write children’s books,” decided Miss Massee.

And with her help I started to write. I bought a typewriter; he became my enemy, and after walking around him for days I locked him up. I waited for “the good hour,” when the little silver bell rings inside, when writing seems effortless and right. These good hours come between long stretches of time, and they arrive unannounced, in a street car, in the bathtub, in bed, in the corner of a cheap restaurant. I never have paper or pencil with me; and so the manuscript was written with stubs borrowed from waiters, on the backs of envelopes, old menus, the inside cover of paper matches, and on wrapping paper. I numbered them, and took them to Miss Massee, and then started to illustrate the story. The pictures were either too big or too small and never finished on time — and somehow it was put in order and became a book, with all my pet phrases intact; and when it was finished the brave lady said: “What’s the next one going to be?”

The next one was written in a string of “good hours” that took two years to happen. It is finished now — and here I am in a train with an old envelope, and on the back of it are printed the first words for the third.

This article, originally published in the July 1936 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, is part of our Caldecott at 75 celebration. Click here for more archival Horn Book material on Ludwig Bemelmans and Madeline’s Rescue.

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