In 2003, Madonna added "children's book author" to her already impressive resume, which also includes five Grammys and an Oscar for her musical career and a Golden Globe-winning turn as an actress. On the suggestion of publisher Nicholas Callaway, Madonna wrote five books, inspired by her Kabbalah studies, which teach moral lessons to children. Callaway had witnessed a crowd of teenagers sit and listen intently when Madonna read a children's book to them in the midnineties, while she was promoting her Bedtime Stories album. "I thought then that she had an uncanny ability to tell a story," Callaway told a London Times reporter, "and that's when I first suggested to her that she might make a terrific children's book author."
The five books are promoted as "Stories for Children of All Ages (Even Grown-Up Ones)," and indeed the stories are "sophisticated enough not to embarrass a ten-year-old," Emily Jenkins wrote on Salon.com. Though not entirely enthusiastic about Madonna's first two children's book efforts, Jenkins thought that by appealing to those older readers, Madonna's books may be filling an important, overlooked niche. "Once children begin reading on their own, they generally don't have access to those kinds of full-color pictures," Jenkins wrote, and "even more rarely do they get them in a book about everyday social interactions."
Madonna's first children's book, The English Roses, is about a clique of pretty, popular English schoolgirls who ostracize another girl, Binah, for being even prettier than they are. But when a fairy godmother appears to the girls in a dream and shows them how difficult Binah's life really is—her mother is dead, so Binah has to spend all of her free time cooking, cleaning, and running the house—the English Roses repent and accept her. Although many critics declared that The English Roses would not have gotten nearly as much attention had it not been written by someone as famous as Madonna, reviewers still found merit in the text. "It's a charming book with a deftly told lesson about envy and judging people," thought Palm Beach Post contributor Anne R. Smith. Similarly, wrote Florida Times Union reviewer Brandy Hilboldt Allport, The English Roses has "a worthy message, cleverly delivered."
Madonna had a great deal of input into the selection of illustrator Jeffrey Fulvimari and the composition of his drawings. The English Roses was Fulvimari's first children's book. He had previously worked as a fashion illustrator, and the influence of that career on his work is apparent. His stylish drawings of slim, large-eyed girls with long, thin legs "are hip and fun and will appeal to the target audience of girls in elementary and middle school," thought Buffalo News reviewer Jean Westmoore.
Mr. Peabody's Apples was the second of Madonna's tales to be released. Set in 1949 in a small all-American town called Happville, Mr. Peabody's Apples is about the damage done when a little boy named Tommy spreads a rumor. Tommy plays on a Little League team that is coached by a history teacher named Mr. Peabody. Tommy notices that every Saturday after their games, Mr. Peabody takes an apple from the town market without paying for it, and the story that Mr. Peabody is a thief quickly spreads through the town. However, Mr. Peabody was not stealing the apples at all: every Saturday morning, when he did his shopping, he paid for an apple and had the store keep it for him until after the game. When Mr. Peabody finds out who started the rumor, he has Tommy bring his pillow to the Little League field and cuts it open, spreading feathers far and wide. He then tells Tommy to go pick up all of the feathers, but Tommy protests that this would be impossible. "It would be just as impossible to undo the damage you've done by spreading the rumor that I am a thief," Mr. Peabody replies. Several critics commented that Mr. Peabody's rebuke seemed much harsher than was called for by Tommy's innocent mistake and wondered if it was fair to burden the child with unassuageable guilt. Despite this, Mr. Peabody's Apples still proved popular with audiences, following The English Roses to the top of the New York Times best-seller list.
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American Decades CD-ROM, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.* MADONNA
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Al Loving Biography - Loved Painting from Early Age to Alice McGill Biography - PersonalMadonna (1958-) Biography - Career, Awards, Honors, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Writings, Work in Progress