Madonna in Montclair – Report from the school
Pop icon Madonna visited the school as part of her promotional tour for “Mr. Peabody’s Apples,” her latest children’s book, which Scholastic Books released on Monday. Tuesday marked the very first public reading of the book, and Madonna chose to do it at MKA, to coordinate with the school’s annual book fair, the largest school book fair in the nation.
Saying she was “really honored to have been asked to do this“, Madonna’s gracious manner may have surprised those over the age of 30, who remember the scandalous days of her early music career. But to the students at MKA, the celebrity was simply another visiting author at a school that has hosted, in the past, J.K. Rowling of “Harry Potter” fame, and Cornelia Funke, author of “The Thief Lord”, due later this week.
MKA Headmaster Peter Greer introduced Madonna’s appearance Tuesday by urging students to “Read – read a lot – keep reading” before turning over the podium to Nicholas Callaway, chairman of Callaway Arts & Entertainment, which is promoting the book with Scholastic. Callaway surprised the audience by announcing, “Madonna is really very shy. I bet she has butterflies in her stomach right now“.
And sure enough, when Madonna herself appeared, almost her first words were: “I do have butterflies”.
Madonna seated herself on the stage among a group of elementary school students, and read her book aloud. All around them, mockups of the book’s illustrations, barrels of apples and larger-than-life baseballs re-created the atmosphere of the book, which is set in 1949 in an imaginary American town, Happville, U.S.A. In the audience sat the middle and upper school students and faculty of MKA.
“It’s easier for me to sing to crowds of people in a stadium than to do this“, the performer told the rapt audience. But she added, “I always feel very safe inside a school. I had such pleasant experiences going to school“.
She then began to read. Mr. Peabody’s Apples is a retelling of a 300-year-old story about the power of words, and how people must choose what they say carefully to avoid harming others. Madonna first learned the story, which she attributes to Ukrainian rabbi Baal Shem Tov, in her study of the Kaballah, an ancient Jewish mystical practice and philosophy. Madonna’s book is dedicated to “teachers everywhere”, and 100,000 copies of “Mr. Peabody’s Apples” will be donated to teachers across the nation. In addition, 100 percent of Madonna’s profits from the book will be donated to The Spirituality for Kids Foundation.
Please click on “Full Article” to read the students’ questions to Madonna and the rest of this interesting story
Seated among the children, Madonna looked feminine and conservative in belted cashmere sweater and flowing eyelet skirt, both in a soft shade of peach. She wore russet-brown Prada boots and her gently waved hair was a ripe, autumnal shade of gold.
There was nothing about her appearance or manner on Tuesday to suggest the Madonna of a decade or two ago, who delighted in scandalizing the establishment with her suggestive song lyrics, religious iconoclasm and provocative clothing. In fact, to the younger of the school children in the MKA auditorium this week, Madonna, identified as Madonna Ritchie on the jacket of her book, an acknowledgment of her marriage to film director Guy Ritchie, is a loving mother of two, a spiritual seeker, and a children’s book author who also happens to have made some hit records.
After the reading, she took questions from the children.
“Do you have a favorite author?” one student asked.
“I knew someone would ask me a trick question“, Madonna responded. She eventually settled on J.D. Salinger, author of “Catcher in the Rye“.
“Did you have to rewrite it a lot?” another student asked.
“Yes, for months, and then my publisher put their two cents in, too“, which elicited a laugh from the audience.
“Why is your first book all about girls, and this book is all about boys?” another student wanted to know.
“Girls tend to be more caught up in wanting what other people have and Mr. Peabody’s Apples is about boys, because it’s set in the world of baseball,” she replied, betraying a kind of gender stereotyping that was surprising to many, given her own well-publicized gender-blending adventures of the past.
Among the morning’s revelations was her comment that “I really wanted to be a writer when I was a little girl.” But, she said with a laugh, “Somehow I got distracted writing songs.
At the end of the question-and-answer session, Madonna asked the students to write an essay for her about their favorite teachers. “Not too long, not too short, not too boring”, she specified. “Whoever writes the best essay gets to come to my house for dinner”.
As students collectively gasped, Madonna amended, “Just kidding”. But she said that the winner would receive a signed copy of the book.
As she toured the MKA book fair, Madonna declined to give individual interviews to the press or sign copies of her book. But she posed for the cameras and was amusing and genial toward students and faculty. She even selected several books from the fair to take home to her children, Lourdes and Rocco.
Said eighth-grader Ceci Nichol after the event, “I thought it was nice to see a pop star who’s interested in students and learning and books.”
Asked if seeing Madonna in person had confirmed her expectations, Nichol said, “People usually think it’s like an image thing, like the person will be stuck up because they’re famous, but I always thought she’d be a nice person”.
By contrast, Jeff Endo, a seventh-grader, said, “I kind of thought she’d be all snotty”. But ultimately Endo agreed with Nichol: “She seemed really nice, actually”.
As with many of her previous endeavors, Madonna took the world by storm with the publication of her first children’s book, The English Roses“. The book was released in September and has been on The New York Times bestseller list ever since. It has been translated into 30 languages and released in more than 100 countries. It is, in fact, the biggest and fastest-selling book ever by a first-time author.
According to Callaway, the success of The English Roses should not be attributed to its author’s fame. “Even the most famous woman in the world wouldn’t be guaranteed success [in the publishing field] unless the stories she wrote had a real appeal for children,” he said.
And indeed, the book garnered positive reviews from sources as wide-ranging and respected as The Washington Post Book World and The Times of London. Whether “Mr. Peabody’s Apples” will enjoy the same success remains to be seen. Already, some negative reviews have appeared. “The book displays a humorless, ham-fisted morality. “Apples” is a bruise on Madonna’s new career”, stated USA Today. The Miami Herald called it “hokey” and “a little stale”.
Whatever its reception, however, Madonna said that her intention is to write a five-book series in all, with each book providing a different moral lesson. As “The English Roses” addressed jealousy and envy, and “Apples” addresses gossip, the next three will address, in order, fortitude, overcoming character flaws, and unselfishness. The next book in the series, titled “Yakov and the Seven Thieves“, is expected to be released in April.
Source: The Mont Clair Times
Article by Laura Federico