`Roses' has smell of success

The Education Beat

Debut: Madonna's first book for children gets good reviews, but some librarians haven't been enthusiastic.

October 12, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTE'S Web it ain't, but The English Roses, Madonna's first attempt at writing a children's book, has been selling like hotcakes -- and getting some surprisingly good reviews.

Yes, that Madonna, she of Sex, her previous publishing effort in 1992, she of the monumental flop Swept Away, she of the recent lip-lock with Britney Spears on an MTV awards show.

The English Roses (Callaway, $19.95) is a tale with a moral: Don't judge people by appearances. A clique of four little girls ostracizes a classmate named Binah, "the most beautiful girl anyone had ever seen."

One night a smart-mouthed fairy godmother offers the girls a chance to see what Binah's life is really like. She's motherless, it happens, her lonely life spent scrubbing floors and cooking for her father. The English roses see the error of their ways, and the quartet becomes a quintet. Jealousy is a bad thing.

Madonna's book was released in 30 languages late last month and immediately became a best-seller, topping The New York Times' children's book list by the first week this month. The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville gave the text a B+, the illustrations (by fashion artist Jeffrey Fulvimari) an A+. The Houston Chronicle cleverly put the book out to review by three children, two of whom adored it. The third, 10, declared of the author, "She's an OK singer and a bad writer."

Time will tell whether The English Roses will find its way to the shelves of the nation's elementary schools, but librarians and those who know their children's literature haven't exactly cheered.

That's partly because Madonna said she ventured into children's literature because there weren't enough good books to read to her daughter, Lourdes, 6. Said the 45-year-old Madonna, "The women in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty or Snow White are really passive. They don't move the plot along. They just show up."

Had Madonna taken time from her busy schedule to visit a library in Los Angeles or London, her two homes, she would have discovered a mother lode of brilliant children's books about everything under the sun, including aggressive women.

"There's nothing wrong with The English Roses," said JoAnn Fruchtman, owner of the Children's Bookstore in Roland Park, "except that the artist gets no credit on the cover. I've seen much worse. The shame is that there are so many wonderful children's books that never get anywhere near this kind of attention."

Of the initial press run of 1 million, Baltimore County libraries purchased 56 copies of Roses, about a midlevel buy for a children's book, said Eileen Kuhl, the juvenile selector. (The library buys 10 times as many Harry Potter novels.)

Will Kuhl have to order more books? Or will the frenzy subside when readers realize the roses are artificial?

State gets passing grade in U.S. history lessons

Maryland's social studies curriculum got a gentleman's C in a state-by-state analysis of education standards in U.S. history.

Conducted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the study gave Maryland 21 points on a scale of 30. The state did well on historical content and balance but poorly on "sequential development" -- the way lessons flow from year to year, topic to topic.

Even with a C, the Free State outperformed most states. Eight earned D's, and 23 earned F's.

Author of the study was Sheldon M. Stern, former chief historian at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston.

Odyssey School to mark birthday with fund-raiser

The Odyssey School on Saturday marks its 10th birthday with a fund-raiser on its new 42-acre campus in Stevenson.

The school was founded in Roland Park by a group of parents frustrated because their dyslexic children weren't getting the services they needed in conventional schools. Every child has a one-on-one or one-on-two tutoring session each day, and the school is committed to maintaining a 3-to-1 ratio of students to teachers.

Three decades ago, Baltimore had no schools for dyslexics. Then came the Jemicy School, and then came Odyssey. Baltimore is richer for both.

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