The English Roses by Madonna
When Madonna set out to write her five children’s books, she and her American publisher wanted them to be heirloom volumes beautifully produced and illustrated stories which would be cherished for years. The text would be simple, the moral clear based on the teachings of the Kabbalah, the esoteric Jewish sect that Madonna follows and the pictures captivating. Her inspiration came from the classics of the genre: Eloise, Barbar The Elephant and the Madeline stories.
I wish I hadn’t known all this. If I hadn’t, I might have approached the first extracts of The English Roses, published in a British broadsheet yesterday, with modest expectations, which the story amply fulfils.
But although girls will probably love the first book of the quintet, it just isn’t in the league of any of those mentioned above. Because the thing about simplicity is that it looks easy until you try it. The Little Prince is exquisitely simple, but it takes a master of prose to pull it off and a childlike imagination to think it up.
Madonna has neither.
She did, however, chose well with her illustrator, Jeffrey Fulvimari, whose almond-eyed heroines, attention to girly detail, bright colours and chic child fashion will reward close scrutiny.
And the story is perfectly sweet. It’s about four girls called The English Roses, who are very good except for their jealous approach to their beautiful classmate, Binah. ‘She was an excellent student and very good at sport. She was always kind to people.
She was special.’ Small wonder, then, that Amy, Charlotte, Grace and Nicole have it in for her.
Until, that is, a feisty fairy godmother causes them to see Binah’s unenviable Cinderella-ish home life.
To cut to the chase, they think better of their catty ways after that.
But what about the Kabbalah?
Madonna’s take on it is that ‘we are all one’, so the lesson that envy is bad and being beastly to loners is a no-no seems right on track. Except it’s the kind of unremarkable moral that a member of the Church of England could just as easily have produced.
Just in case you didn’t get the message about global oneness, Grace is black, Charlotte looks Oriental, and Nicole is white, but wears specs.
It should go down a treat with little girls, but it aspires to be a story ‘for children of all ages (even grownup ones)’. Count this grownup out.
The English Roses is charming in its way, but pedestrian with it and certainly no classic.