This week, Madonna unleashes her 100- nation assault on the children’s-book industry, releasing the first of five stories, The English Roses, after closely guarding its secrets for months (aside from divulging that “it deals with envy and jealousy” and is influenced by Madonna’s embrace of the Kabbalah). The pop icon complained to British tabloids that “there’s, like, no lessons” in children’s literature today—“like, no books about anything.” But a glance at recent work from her colleagues shows just how wrong she is.
Just the Two of Us
By Will Smith (Scholastic; 2001)
What It’s About: The Fresh Prince transcribes (a little too closely) the lyrics of his 1998 hit about fatherhood.
What We’ve Learned: “I wanna kiss you all the time / But I will test that butt when you cut out of line. / Why’d you do that?”
Christmas in Canaan
By Kenny Rogers (HarperCollins; 2002)
What It’s About: A veteran of the genre, Rogers writes for preteens in his third book (with Donald Davenport) about two boys—one black, one white—who overcome their differences and learn the true meaning of Christmas.
What We’ve Learned: “Silently, within each heart, there was a deeper understanding—as long as there was family, there would always be some Christmas.”
By LeAnn Rimes (Dutton; 2003)
What It’s About: The crossover country star, herself barely 21, tells of a little jaguar faced with many a girl’s secret dread—swim class. Until she meets a boy, and the two jaguars—one black, one spotted—learn the true meaning of friendship.
What We’ve Learned: “You’re going to have to stand up to something very soon,” says Isabel the plush parrot. “Either your fears or your peers.”
And the Winner Is …
By LL Cool J (Scholastic; 2002)
What It’s About: The rapper’s head, eerily superimposed upon a computer-drawn body, riffs on winning gracefully. Part of the continuing Hip Kid Hop series, wherein Doug E. Fresh, for one, reminds you to “think again.”
What We’ve Learned: “When you’re a winner, as you’ve been before, / Remember to walk with humility, and never be a loser who’s sore.”