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Madeline Brandeis

1897 – 1937

by Suzanne Oshinsky

In her dedication to her 1929 book, The Little Swiss Wood-Carver, Madeline Brandeis, children’s author and producer and director of travel films, sounded her unique multicultural note: “To every child of every land,/Little Sister, Little Brother,/As in this book your lives unfold,/May you learn to love each other.” Until her untimely death, Brandeis traveled the world in search of stories to tell, aiming the lens of her camera at the lives of her characters.

Madeline (Frank) Brandeis was born on December 18, 1897, in San Francisco, to Albert and Mattie (Ehrman) Frank and attended Miss Burke’s School there. She married E. John Brandeis on January 28, 1918, and had a daughter, Marie Madeline. Brandeis married a second time, to Dr. Joseph A. Sampson, on October 5, 1933. They lived in New York City.

Brandeis began her writing career at a time when children’s literature was just coming into its own. The publication of dozens of her titles for children and adolescents, including the Children of All Lands series (1933) and the novel Six Face the World (1938), reflected the explosion in the quantity and quality of books for children that began in the 1920s and 1930s. In addition to illustrating her books with photographs from her travels, Brandeis took up the movie camera in her role as producer of eight motion pictures for children. Her work does not deal overtly with her own Jewish identity, although the themes of respect for different cultural and national heritages and of passing down family traditions and values resound in her books. In The Little Swiss Wood-Carver, the poor mountain boy of Switzerland keeps the memory of his artist father alive in his own work; and in The Little Spanish Dancer (1931), the young dancer is reminded of how her Spanish foremothers, despite persecution, secretly took their daughters into the dim light of caves in order to teach them the art of the dance.

Madeline Brandeis died on June 28, 1937, at age thirty-nine in Gallup, New Mexico, of injuries suffered in an automobile accident.

SELECTED WORKS BY MADELINE BRANDEIS

Adventures in Hollywood (1937); Carmen of the Golden Coast (1935); Jack of the Circus (1931); Little Anne of Canada (1931); The Little Dutch Tulip Girl (1929); Little Farmer of the Middle West (1937); The Little Indian Weaver (1928); Little Jeanne of France (1929); Little John of New England (1936); The Little Mexican Donkey Boy (1931); Little Pepito of Central America (1941); Little Phillipe of Belgium (1930); Little Rose of the Mesa (1935); The Little Spanish Dancer (1931); The Little Swiss Wood-Carver (1929); Little Tom of England (1935); Little Tony of Italy (1934); Mitz and Fritz of Germany (1933); Shaun O’Day of Ireland (1929); The Wee Scotch Piper (1929).

Bibliography

Obituary. NYTimes, June 29, 1937, 21:2; WWIAJ (1938).

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4 Comments

The first "big" book, that I can remember, reading as a very young child was Jack of the Circus by Madeline Brandeis. That was 1954-55 or so and I read it until the pages were thin ;)

I mentioned this to a friend of mine recently and she was able to find a copy of it for me for Christmas! What a treat to be able to re-live those happy childhood memories of reading this delightful book.

I often think that it is a shame that our children today do so little reading and/or aren't exposed to the morals that these early childrens' books taught we "oldsters" in our formative years.

The Harvard Film Archive has 16mm film prints of two of her silent films - THE WEE SCOTCH PIPER and TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR (aka THE STAR PRINCE).

I just came into possession of an original first print 1931 copy of this book in an estate sale. Amazing!

Some of my treasured childhood memories revolve around curling up with a book - something I still do. Madeline Brandeis books were some of my favorites - The Little Spanish Dancer and Jeanne Of France in particular. I was fortunate enough to get these back into my collection recently and am currently reliving happier times when things were simpler.

How to cite this page

Oshinsky, Suzanne. "Madeline Brandeis." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 26, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/brandeis-madeline>.

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