In what is billed as the biggest simultaneous multilanguage release of any book ever, Madonna's picture book, The English Roses, was published worldwide September 15 with illustrations by artist and designer Jeffrey Fulvimari. In the story, four English schoolgirl friends exclude a fifth girl because she is beautiful and they are jealous of her; by the book's end, they learn not to judge people by their appearances.

Nicholas Callaway, publisher of Callaway Editions, licensed rights through agent Andrew Wylie and orchestrated a massive publication strategy, covering 100 countries and more than 30 languages. Callaway Editions published the U.S. edition, which is being distributed by the Penguin Group (Penguin has the rest of the English-language rights). The U.S. print run now stands at 900,000 copies, and the worldwide figure is 1.4 million copies, although at press time different publishers were going back for reprints.

Callaway called the worldwide response to The English Roses "very gratifying. I felt from the beginning that the world would underestimate the project, but what we are seeing now is a response to the quality of the book."

According to many reports, the book was selling briskly across the nation. Both Barnes & Noble and Borders took major positions on the title. Jenie Carlen, a spokesperson for the Borders Group, said that Borders had taken a "strong stand" on the book, and she called first-day sales "very good, especially for a children's book and a celebrity book. If the book continues to sell this way, we will make our plan." A B&N spokesperson said the company didn't have sales figures, but that it was expecting the title to be a big hit.

The Gap also was a big supporter of The English Roses, in conjunction with Madonna's endorsement deal with that company. In addition to carrying the book in its stores (the first time for a children's book), The Gap featured the book jacket in hundreds of Gap Kids windows and created a limited-edition tote bag to give out with a $75 purchase.

According to Callaway, several countries around the world, including the U.K. and France, are already going back to press, based on first-day sales of The English Roses. "Norway sold out in two hours," he said. "The numbers keep going up and are changing on a daily basis."

The English Roses is the first installment in a five-book series; each will be set in a different time and place, with different characters and a different illustrator. Mr. Peabody's Apples, book #2, is due out on November 10, 2003; the illustrator, as with all five of the books, will be announced on publication day.