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This would never have been published were it not by Madonna
on 19 September 2003
I was initally unsure whether this is a children's book targetted at adults, or a coffee table book for kids (which misses the point, given that kids don't have coffee tables...).
The characters and writing style is flat, and unengaging, the pictures lack charm and remind me of those new Bratz, Barbie-with attitude-type dolls. And the story lacks any depth or intelligence.
It is the story of four "English Roses" who could be six or seven, could be 12 or 13, could be 15 or 16, who shun one of the girls in their street because she is so beautiful. But, when they discover what her life is like, they befriend her.
Besides the fact that there is little charm to this book - despite its desperate attempts to display some - it seems to fall between a rock and a hard place. My daughter is four, and the right age to enjoy picture books with a story, but is not engaged by a story based on teenage (at best) sentiments and attitudes like this. She simply does not observe the beauty or otherwise of her friends, in the way that this book implies.
But, the 8-10 year-olds who I know - who seem more likely to be a little in tune with the themes here - wouldn't go near a picture book. They're already onto Harry Potter, Amber Spyglass etc. And it's way too childish for teenagers.
The key to Madonna's target audience, I think, is a little bit of small print right at the back of the book, which identifies the font used for the text in the book (who, apart from an artsy fartsy grow-up would be interested in such matters?).
I don't say this with any joy, as someone who has loved Madonna's music in the past and who believes her to be an icon who has made the world a thoroughly more entertaining place over the past two decades. But I found this to be little more than a cynical marketing exercise.
This is not a kids book for adults, or a coffee table book for kids. It is a coffee table book for trendy (perhaps even celebrity) mums and dads, who want to show off how cool their kids are. It is the Sex book for the parent generation.
This will, no doubt, sell pretty well because of the publicity surrounding it and its author. But, by the time the fourth volume comes around, watch the sales plummet.
Anyone tempted should save their money. Buy one of The Tiger Who Came To Tea, The Grufallo or Mr Wolf's Pancakes instead. Or all of them... And, if you must, wait until The English Roses hits the bargain baskets, as it surely will.