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The One Thing You Never Knew About 'Madeline'

For over 75 years, Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline has charmed readers of all generations. Although she is the smallest of the 12 girls who walk in two straight lines, Madeline is the pluckiest and spunkiest of the bunch, and it's no wonder her strength of spirit has made her an enduring heroine. Even if you've read the stories a thousand times to your own kids, chances are there is one thing you never knew about Madeline.

For all of the dreamy illustrations of Paris, there is one surprising fact: "Madeline is not French," said John Bemelmans Marciano to NPR. Marciano, who is Ludwig Bemelmans' grandson — and the author of current Madeline books — further explained that she's not an orphan, either. Who knew everyone's favorite French orphan was neither French nor orphaned?

Her real nationality may surprise you, as well. "She's an American girl who happens to be in a French boarding school," Jane Curley, curator of a Madeline exhibition at the New York Historical Society, told CBS News. This adds a little depth to her character: she is a fish out of water who has adapted exceedingly well to her life in Paris.

And Madeline's history makes sense once you learn more about her creator. According to Madeline.com, Ludwig Bemelmans was born in Austrian Tirol, and he came to America in 1914. An accomplished artist and travel writer, he was by all accounts an opinionated free spirit, as Madeline.com further noted. No doubt his knowledge of world travel, vivacity, and talent informed his creation of this globe-trotting, fearless American heroine.