Madonna, known for reinventing herself as a performer, has been enjoying herlatest career shift: children's book author. Beginning with the bestselling The English Roses (Callaway/Penguin, Sept. 2003), she has penned four picture books; the latest is The Adventures of Abdi, illus. by Olga Dugina and Andrej Dugin.
PW: What inspired you to begin writing children's books?
Madonna: The inspiration initially came from my teacher who I study Kabbalah [Jewish mysticism] with. I have studied with him for seven years now. He suggested, "Why don't you write children's books and share the wisdom that you've gained as an adult?" It seemed like an out-of-left-field idea, because I never dreamed in a million years that I'd be doing something like that. But the more I reflected on it, I thought, this is kind of a cool challenge for me, I'd like to try it.
The inspiration for the first story came from my daughter [Lourdes ("Lola"), now eight], who attends a French school here in London. She hangs out with a group of girls at school that the teacher calls "the English Roses." I took that idea for the title and developed the story around it. And the other stories just grew from there.
You've planned to write five titles. Is there a particular reason, perhaps some symbolism in that number?
No reason. I knew early on that there were five specific themes I could definitely write stories about. But now the total number of books is going to be at least six, because I've just written a sequel to The English Roses [due in 2005].
What do you want children to take away from your books?
I think each of the stories has a message that gives kids a point of view for dealing with an adverse situation in their life.
The first book introduces the concept of misperceptions, and the idea that you really can't judge a book by its cover. The second book is about the power of our words. If you say something negative or hurtful, you can say you're sorry, but you cannot remove completely the effect of what you've said. The third book is about transformation and the transformative power of prayer; everyone has the possibility and potential to change. And The Adventures of Abdi is about certainty, trusting that things happen for a reason and you have to be certain that it is for the best.
What kind of platform does your celebrity provide for the books?
Celebrity is an advantage and a disadvantage. It's an advantage because I have a built-in audience. People know who I am and they pay attention to what I do and what I say. But it's also a disadvantage because people have preconceived notions about what I should or should not be doing, and what I'm qualified or not qualified to do. It can limit people's view. They think, she's a pop star, what business does she have writing children's books? But at the end of the day, I'm a mother. And who better to write a children's book?
I have had many challenges in my life, including some very big ones when I was young and I've learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way. I have seen life from just about every angle you can see it from. I think I have a unique perspective and I feel very qualified to write these books and share my experience.
Will you be making any appearances in support of The Adventures of Abdi?
I am in England right now where my children are in school and my husband is working on a film, so it's not easy for me to travel. I will be doing a signing at Selfridges in a few days and I'm doing as much press as I can from one place. But I'm sure we'll be doing other things as well.
What has been the most meaningful thing to happen in your life as a children's book author?
The most fulfilling thing is people coming up to me and telling me that my books have helped them in some way. I have a friend who is a psychotherapist and she works with many abused children and teenagers and she uses my books in her practice, which is very gratifying.
I also received a letter from a teenage girl who had a very unhappy home life and she told me that The English Roses had become her bible; it has helped her through many difficult times. That kind of response makes me feel like I'm doing the right thing.