An Interview with Madonna
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Madonna Ritchie is an icon of our age and has had many adventures in her varied and successful career as a musician, actress and now author. She has sold 200 million albums worldwide, appeared in 18 movies and now published 4 bestselling children’s books.
Born: Michigan, America, 1958
Jobs: Singer, actress
Lives: London & Los Angeles
First Book: The English Roses, 2003
Madonna’s books (there are to be five of them) are beautifully illustrated morality tales based on Hebrew texts from Kabbalah, the Jewish-based belief system she has been studying for several years. The books look at issues such as friendship, envy, sharing, etc. and often read rather like traditional stories. The first book, The English Roses was translated into 32 languages and published simultaneously in 100 countries. The book became the fastest-selling picture book in Britain – second only to Harry Potter in the bestseller lists.
Each of Madonna’s books for children is different in style and storyline, featuring a new cast of characters brought to life by celebrated illustrators from around the world.
WHAT SHE SAYS…
“I like little kids better than big people. They don’t have any bad habits.”
“Yakoy and the Seven Thieves is a story about how all of us have the ability to unlock the gates of heaven – no matter how unworthy we think we are. For when we go against our selfish natures, we make miracles happen, in our lives and in the lives of others.”
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT MADONNA’S BOOKS…
'I was excited when I was asked to read this book (The English Roses) because I’d seen it on Newsround and I could be one of the first people to read it. The story is about friendship and jealousy and how girls sometimes judge people they don’t know very well…The story has a moral, which I think is: don’t judge a book by its cover.'
Susannah Jenkins, aged 10, Southern Daily Echo
'I found The English Roses hugely enjoyable, colourful and unique. The story is heartfelt and the illustrations, which my children and I loved, are refreshingly innovative…Any story that makes children aware of their own behaviour above and beyond entertaining them is a bonus, so the book scores highly in that regard.'
Sadie Frost in The Times
'Yakov and the Seven Thieves again proves the amazing range of Madonna’s storytelling talent. Her first book was set in contemporary England and the second in post-World War II America. Now, she takes us to a completely different cultural milieu – a small 18th-century town in Eastern Europe. This was why world-renowned Russian artist, Gennady Spirin, was selected to illustrate the book, because his traditional artistic style perfectly complements the old-world setting of the story.'
Francesca Dow, MD of Puffin Books.
'With these books Madonna has accomplished something rare and wonderful. Despite the astonishing range and variety of her stories, they all evoke the secret that the red fox shares with the Little Prince:’It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.’ These too are magical stories for all ages – even grown-up ones.'
Nicholas Callaway, Callaway Editions
MADONNA TITLES AVAILABLE FROM PUFFIN
The English Roses
The English Roses: Too Good to be True
The English Roses: Friendship Book
The English Roses: Friends for Life
The English Roses and Other Stories
Mr Peabody’s Apples
Yakov and the Seven Thieves
The Adventures of Abdi
Lotsa de Casha
Please describe the role reading has played in your life.
Reading has always been a huge part of my life. I attribute the fact that I have an imagination to the fact that I have loved to read since I was a child.
What were your favorite books as a child?
Anything from C. S. Lewis, to Charlotte’s Web, to The Little Prince, to Nancy Drew murder mysteries, to the poems of Sylvia Plath.
Why did you decide to write stories for children?
Well, the idea originally came from my Kabbalah teacher. He suggested that since I am a mother now, and know what makes a book interesting or not to children, perhaps I should take what I have learned and turn it into stories for them.
How is writing stories different from writing songs? Do you prefer one to the other?
Writing books and songs is very, very different. I wouldn’t say I prefer one to the other. I think it depends on the mood I’m in. There are generally a lot more people involved when you write a song; you’re in a recording studio, there are lots of technicians and other people. But when you’re writing a story, it’s much more of a solitary experience. I enjoy them both.
What is your favorite thing about being an author?
Having been number one on the The New York Times’ bestseller list! It’s an incredible feeling to get to the end of a story and feel a sense of accomplishment. For me, there was always one little moment in each story where I almost cried. I knew that I had got it just right when I had that one little moment that almost brought tears to my eyes.
Do your children enjoy reading? Which of your books do they like most?
My daughter loves the Junie B. Jones series. She goes to the lycée, so she reads a lot of French books, and she loves Tom-Tom et Nana. My son, strangely enough, loves C. S. Lewis, too. He’s a bit bummed out because there are not a lot of pictures in the books, but right now he’s reading The Chronicles of Narnia (well, I’m reading it to him; he doesn’t know how to read yet). He also loves a French book called Les Schtroumpfs, which is essentially French Smurfs. Rocco’s favorite of my books is Mr. Peabody’s Apples and Lola’s favorite is The English Roses.
What messages do you hope children will take from your books?
I hope to inspire children in a myriad of ways through the stories, each of which deals with a different kind of conflict. For instance, The English Roses deals with a group of girls who are incredibly envious of another girl and how they cope with those feelings of jealousy. They realize in the end that, in fact, they had completely misjudged this girl because of the way she looked. I hope that children come away with the idea that we cannot judge people by what we see. I think that adults can get the same lessons out of these books as children can.
Why did you choose each of the artists to illustrate your five books? What qualities in their artwork made you think they were the right artists to bring your stories to life visually?
I think we were able to achieve a perfect marriage for each book. Jeffrey Fulvimari’s whimsical, girlish, and accessible drawings made him perfect for The English Roses. Loren Long’s (Mr. Peabody’s Apples) illustrations reminded me of the work of Thomas Hart Benton and the 1940s, a time when America seemed like a very cozy and naïve place to live. Gennady Spirin’s old-world paintings have a lot of details in the characters’ faces, and I wanted the art in Yakov and the Seven Thieves to show compassion, grief, and pathos in the faces of the parents who were grieving over their ill son. Olga and Andrej Dugin’s phenomenal illustrations take readers to a world of snake charmers and flying carpets, which was perfect for the Middle Eastern setting of The Adventures of Abdi, and I loved the soft, muted, pastel tones of Rui Paes’ palette, which beautifully captured the world I had envisioned for Lotsa de Casha.
What are the most important lessons that you try to impart to your children?
There are a few things that I often repeat in my house. I try to instill in my children a sense of responsibility, and when I say responsibility I mean more than, “OK, you’ve got to make your bed and pick up the toys in the playroom.” I tell my daughter, because she’s older, that she’s responsible for her brother—he is going to mimic her behavior, but she is also going to learn from him. My daughter’s job as an older sister is to teach him and to guide him, and that responsibility helps keep them both in check. The other value that I try to teach my children is appreciation. I tell them that they are very lucky, and that they should maintain a sense of gratitude for everything that they have.
What are the biggest challenges that children face today?
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Living in a world that is completely and utterly inundated with stimulation and imagery. It just seems that children are growing up so fast now because they can get information so quickly. Children don’t even have childhoods anymore! That’s a big challenge for them as well as for parents, who have to make sure their children don’t lose their own imaginations in the face of constant external stimulation. It’s a good idea to turn off the television sometimes and talk to your children or read to your children. There’s so much available for us to throw at our children to entertain them these days, but we shouldn’t forget to just spend time with them.
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