Madonna hangs up her material-girl cloak to teach children the importance of looking beyond a surface sheen. In The English Roses, the superstar's children's book debut, four little girls (the roses in question) "play the same games, read the same books, and like the same boys." Nicole, Amy, Charlotte, and Grace all love to dance the monkey and the tickety-boo
and they all are horribly jealous of Binah, the perfect, beautiful, smart, kind girl who lives nearby. Even though they know Binah is lonely, she makes them sick. They would say, "Let's pretend we don't see her when she walks by." And even, "Let's push her into the lake!" The pleasantly bossy narrator explains, "And that is what they did. No, silly, not the lake part, the pretending not to see her part." One night, however, the four girls all have the same dream that sets them straight. A fairy godmother sprinkles them with fairy dust and takes them to spy on Binah. When they see that she lives alone with her father, slaving away night and day at household chores, the four girly grumblers feel very sorry for her. The fairy scolds them, "
in the future, you might think twice before grumbling that someone else has a better life than you." And they do. This morality tale is nothing new under the sun, but it is cleverly told, with many teaspoonfuls of good humor. Jeffrey Fulvimari's illustrations are no less than stunning--filling every page with vivacious black ink lines and gorgeous watercolor reminiscent of 1960s fashion sketches. Children will enjoy this "don't hate me because I'm beautiful" story that celebrates friendship as much as it teaches compassion. (Ages 6 and older) --Karin Snelson
From School Library Journal
Grade 3-6-In yet another change of public persona, Madonna turns Mother-Knows-Best moralist with a tale aimed at preteens, though packaged in picture-book format. Responding to an admonition from one of their mothers, and with additional guidance from a fairy godmother, four young fashion plates at a sleepover simultaneously dream that a classmate, ostracized because of her extreme beauty, has to do all the household chores because her mum is dead. When this actually turns out to be true, the four guiltily invite Binah into their circle, and surprise, surprise, soon they're all thick as thieves. An unseen narrator delivers this rough-hewn story in a conversational, "listen to me, I'm telling you this for your own good," tone, breaking in distractingly several times to make sure that readers are paying attention. Reflecting a background in fashion art, Fulvimari places skinny lasses with oversized eyes, dressing and posing as if they've stepped from the pages of a department store catalog, against visually bewildering expanses of scribbled filigree or loudly patterned wallpaper. All in all, this overproduced episode, the first of a projected series, will have to rely on hype rather than content or presentation to find a readership.
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John Peters, New York Public Library
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