With Pier de' Soldi coming to Italian bookstores
on October 13 the first series of Madonna's children books,
started in September 2003 with The English Roses is
now complete in Italy as well.
To coincide with the Italian release of Lotsa De Casha,
MadonnaTribe had a nice chat with Valeria Raimondi,
Editor of Feltrinelli's children's book collection "Kids",
about the unique experience of translating these stories
for children (even grown-up ones) by Madonna, into the language
of her Ciccone ancestors.
Valeria and welcome to MadonnaTribe, so, how did this
experience of translating Madonna's children's book into
And how was Feltrinelli contacted for the first time to
distribute these books?
VR: The captain on board to lead
this adventure was basically Nicholas Callaway, the American
plublisher of these children's books written by Madonna.
Our publishing firm has been contacted a few years ago
at the London book fair where we had the chance to take
a look at the at temporary drafts of the stories and based
on the reading of those we put together our offer.
This is basically how things went and the intention of
both the original publisher and the agent was to give
these books in the hands of high profile publishers, that
care more about quality than business. This is why the
rights of these books have been given to very serious
European publishers, such as Gallimard in France, Hanser
Verlag for Germany, Penguin in the United Kinkdom and
All these can be considered leading publishers of their
MT: Do you remember what was your first
reaction to see the name of an artist like Madonna linked
to children's books?
I think it was more or less the same reaction everybody
had, but I overcame that for a series of reasons.
The reaction I first had was a mixture of incredulousness
and scepticism like if Madonna had the insolence of saying
she knew everything and could do anything. Then when I read
the manuscripts I found that they were some honest moral
fables written in a very traditional style and that what
the illustrators' propositions were very convincing. It
looked like it was going to be a very good product and this
helped me overcoming my initial doubts and start working
on the progect.
What do you think about Madonna's writing style?
It comes quite natural to fans who know Madonna very well
to draw a comparison between the way she writes her song
lyrics and her children's stories.
Do you have any familiarity with her song lyrics and did
you have the chance to make that comparison?
I don't know Madonna's song lyrics that well to compare
them to these stories, but I know really well the texts
of these books because I've personally translated them and
I was in charge of their publication.
I have to say that they are very simple texts that contain
a very clear message, very centered to the story.
Personally they reminded me of traditional German fairy
tales where the fantastic element melts with reality in
a very fluid and spontaneous way, with heroes that are not
too much surprised by the magic experience they are living.
These tales have all this element in common and Madonna
herself says that they are inspired by Kabbalah stories
with a message that we find more or less in all the cultures
that want to give children a very clear and exaplary message.
MT: By working on this series of books did you
have a chance to get and idea of the motivations Madonna
had to write these stories?
VR: I think the motivations are
basically the ones Madonna herself explained during the
press conference to present The English Roses, moving to
a different phase of her life and being a mother, wanting
to leave a message and being able to say something in the
world of children's literature.
MT: Did working on all this body of work
change your opinion of Madonna as an artist?
VR: I have always had a great respect for Madonna
as a great professionist. I had the chance to meet her at
the presentation of these books and now I am even more sure
about that. She is a person who is very serious in everything
she does. Although the books have not been welcomed well
by everybody I think they are made with integrity and I
think this is what matters, especially to kids.
These books are not a shameless commercial product at all
- I don't think Madonna even needed that - but they are
really the fulfillment of one of her wishes that comes from
the life she lives today, as a mother of two young children,
as she said herself during the press conference.
MT: Speaking about the way these books
have been received, what can you say about Italy?
In the United States, the English roses and Mr Peabody's
apples, were a huge success, on top of sale charts for weeks,
while the following books experienced a minor success. Italy
probably is a country with a completely different tradition
for Children's books
VR: In Italy I think the books have been received
with a huge initial prejudice. We must say that The
English Roses was a huge hit here as well, obviously
with the appropriate proportions - Italy is not the United
States - but Le Rose Inglesi has experienced a
The other books had a minor success, especially because
The English Roses had the benefit of the being
the first book, the first one announced, the one everybody
was waiting to see and read.
I think there was indeed a prejudice against
with I had to fight and I had a first hand experience of
how sceptic some of the people in this business were.
The biggest accusation was the one of "moralism",
which seemed much more strong because it was directed to
somebody like Madonna.
I think Italy showed a bit it's bigot face this time but
aside from that these books were a success after all and
people appreciate them for what they are, some beautiful
illustrated books for small children.
I really loved The English Roses, especially because
it comes with very new and fresh illustrations, but my absolute
favourite is the one that has just been released here in
Italy, Pier de' Soldi (Lotsa De Casha), because
it is so beautiful, it's illustrated in a very classic way
but at the same time it has nice colours and a very strong
story, much stronger than The English Roses, at
least that's how I see it.
Did you notice any difference in the writing
style from a book to the other?
VR: No, I think the stile is always constant,
with a well defined narrator who has always the same role.
An omniscient and external narrator who always uses the
same type of simple language, with repetitions that belong
to the oral tradition fable, to the Grimm Brothers' stories
and what comes from that.
I think Madonna didn't want to be presumptuous in this,
she didn't want to invent something new but she inspired
herself to the tradition of classic fables.
MT: Is there a book which was more difficult than
others to work on? Some of the books have some peculiarities
inevitably linked to the English language, how were those
handled in the Italian version?
VR: In all the books there are recurrent
lines that we chose not reproduce in the Italian version
to avoid comical results.
The most difficult thing in the latest book was to translate
the title that in English is a pun on words meaning "lots
of cash". I had to look for something that could also
translate the pun of words but at the same time it could
work as a character's name, and something that was not completely
different from the original.
MT: Yes, when the names of the various
world editions started to circulate I wondered how Lotsa
could sound in Italian. Were there many attempts to find
a proper Italian name for him?
There were many suggestions, I did a sort of survey because
being the book a co-edition there are rules for the lenght
of words that need to be respected as the graphic layout
of the book is the same for every language.
I remember some suggestions that were way too long to reproduce
within the layout, even if they were very nice. I think
that the title that has been chosen is the best compromise
between the lenght of words, their meaning and their sound.
We had to take into consideration all these factors and
I think that Pier de' Soldi is a title that could
Well yes, this aspect of the books being printed simultaneously
for many countries is something quite unique indeed...
Many editions for South Europe were handled by Editoriale
Llyod in Trieste. They were receiving the definitive print
layouts while we received some working layouts in which
we had to insert the translated texts.
After the publication of The English Roses each
publisher had the right to handle and to freely decide on
the release of the following stories but still the books
had to be produced at the same time following the common
due dates of the american releases.
So we worked on books that have been released on the Italian
market quite late. For example I worked on Lotsa De
Casha at the beginning of the this year but it has
reached Italian bookstores just now.
MT: Were the books translated at different
times or were they done all at once?
VR: Nope, we worked on one at a time. We
were first sent a draft in order to give us an idea of what
the book was about, and then we received the final text.
These books had some real complex work on their text, we
had some last minute changes and also the order of some
books has been swapped in the final publication schedule.
As you probably know next year is due out a new book with
a sequel to The English Roses, are you already
working on this project? And what do you think about the
idea of turning the story into a television series or a
film, another project that was recently rumoured?
I am aware of the new book, but we are still not working
on the project. As the books have had different responses
in different countries, I think some of the publishers will
go ahead with this new one but others will not.
As usual I will wait to read the story before judging, that's
the way books must be judged. I just hope, as I hope from
every author, that this new book is not only something done
to recycle but has a strong storyline we can work with.
MT: You are both the Editor of Feltrinelli's
children's book division, "Kids", and the translator
of these five books.
Was it because you thought they needed a special attention
that you decided to translate them yourself?
Yes indeed, I did the translations myself because that's
my background, before becoming an editor I worked as a translator
for several years and these tales were short texts that
had to be translated with so much care. That's why I preferred
to work on them myself, even if it's not common for an editor
to work on the translations directly.
In the case of more stories coming out in the future, would
you keep working on them yourself or would you leave the
"priviledge" to someone else?
VR: I didn't see this as a priviledge because
a translator in these kind of books is not particulary visible
even if there's a huge work to do. People who notice that
presence can congratulate with you but it's not a priviliedge
from the point of view of popolarity.
Personally I'm very stubborn on the translations
we commission and I do a great work of verification on them,
so in these cases it was faster for me to translate them
myself directly instead of checking someone else's work
later. Especially when there are tough desicions to make.
For example in The Adventures of Abdi there is
a recurring line that we translated in two different ways.
it was difficult to express in italian the idea that "It's
for your own good" also
has a deeper meaning, that "what has to happen will
happen, you have to let your destiny fullfill".
That is also the main message of the book...
Exactly. The moral of that book is not to try to go against
our own destiny, but to follow it, that way you will be
perfect. This is an extremely complex and deep message for
a children's book. I've had a look at how it was translated
in other editions to get an idea if I could simplify the
message in "It's for your own good".
If Feltrinelli will go ahead with the new book, if it will
have more or less the same lenght and I will have the time,
I think I will be working on it also to give the project
a sense of continuity.
you have the chance to give one of these books as a present
Were they well received?
VR: Oh yes, many times and they have always
been appreciated, very much.
Also because they are classic tales, like those old big
books adults used to read to children. It didn't matter
if you were able to read or not, you were listening to the
words while you looked at the colourful pictures while the
adult was reading for you.
These Madonna fables are exaclty that kind of book. When
I gave them to children as a present, they loved them.
And these books - printed in quadrichromy on glossy paper
- always smell so good...
That's true, a first
hand contact with the book is really impressive, and the
illustrations of all the different stories are breathtaking
when you see them in person.
VR: All the illustrators Madonna asked
to work on her stories are worldwide acclaimed artists and
the best in the illustrated books for children scene. This
is a project with an incredibly high standard of quality.
of an adult reading these stories to kids, it is now possible
to hear Madonna herself reading the books with the brand
new audio book released in the UK and US.
Yes, I know there were proposed to us as well, but audio
books don't work very well in Italy, for a series of reasons.
From what I know, even very successful titles, didn't do
well as audio books.
want to thank you for this chat Valeria and thanks for giving
Madonna an Italian "voice" in these stories!
The MadonnaTribe team would like to thank
Valeria Raimondi, Editor of the Feltrinelli Editore
and translator of the Italian edition
of the five Madonna's children's book for kindly sharing this
time with our readers.
Thanks to Nicoletta Realini and the press office
of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore for the precious help and assistance.
Images from Lotsa de Casha and other Madonna's children's
books © 2004-2005 by Madonna.
All rights reserved. Courtesy of Callaway Arts & Entertainment
and Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore.
Photo of Madonna courtesy of Gamma. © 2003. All rights reserved.
This interview © 2005 MadonnaTribe