The book takes a more conventional approach to a picture book than Madonna’s previous book, “The English Roses,” which debuted atop The New York Times’ list of children’s best sellers and remained there for five weeks.
The story in “Mr. Peabody’s Apples” is a little hokey. It begins: “In the town of Happville (which wasn’t a very big town), Mr. Peabody was congratulating his Little League team on a great game. They had not won, but no one really cared, because they’d had such a good time playing.”
But when Billy Little (“who wasn’t a very big boy”), Mr. Peabody’s No. 1 fan, hears a rumor that Mr. Peabody is a shoplifter, Billy turns on his baseball mentor just like everyone else in town.
Being a children’s picture book, though, the good guys win in the end, and the rumor monger learns his lesson. The book’s full-page illustrations by Loren Long are done in a Norman Rockwell-like style, and there’s a moral learned at the end.
Madonna followed these tried-and-true formulas and that’s why “Mr. Peabody’s Apples” works and likely will entertain young readers. But it is also why the book seems a little stale.
With “The English Roses,” she crafted a more original story of envy and friendship, a story more complicated than “Mr. Peabody’s Apples.” And she utilized colorful line-drawn portraits by fashion artist Jeffrey Fulvimari in “The English Rose.” The illustrations are highly stylized and interesting but they seem targeted more for adults’ eyes than children’s.
The audience for “Mr. Peabody’s Apples,” however, is clear: grade-schoolers who need to be reminded that their actions have consequences.
In her introduction, Madonna explains that “Mr. Peabody’s Apples” is based on a 300-year-old Ukrainian tale called “The Baad Shem Tov.” She says her instructor in Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, first turned her on to the story, which aims to demonstrate the power of words.
But you’d think that a celebrity with Madonna’s notoriety – she’s been the target of rumors for two decades – wouldn’t need a centuries-old story to inspire her to write about the value of truth and the pain that comes with gossip that spreads like wildfire.
It’s also worth noting that the baseball fields of middle America were the backdrop for one of Madonna’s most critically acclaimed endeavors: the 1992 film “A League of Their Own.”
“Mr. Peabody’s Apples” is getting an even bigger global launch than “The English Roses”; it will be published Nov. 10 in 36 languages and available in more than 100 countries. Madonna says her profits from the book will be donated to the Spirituality for Kids Foundation.
Next up in the star’s five-book deal with Callaway Editions is “Yakov and the Seven Thieves,” due out in spring 2004.