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.


MadonnaTribe: Hi Valeria and welcome to MadonnaTribe, so, how did this experience of translating Madonna's children's book into Italian start?
And how was Feltrinelli contacted for the first time to distribute these books?

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 so on.
All these can be considered leading publishers of their respective countries.

MT: Do you remember what was your first reaction to see the name of an artist like Madonna linked to children's books?


VR: 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.


MT: 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?

VR: 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.

: 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.


Did working on all this body of work change your opinion of Madonna as an artist?

: 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

: 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 great success.
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.


VR: 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.

MT: 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?

VR: 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 work well.


MT: 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?


VR: 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.

MT: 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".

MT: 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.


MT: Did you have the chance to give one of these books as a present to children?
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...

MT: 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.

MT: Speaking 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.


VR: 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.

MT: I 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 "Kids" collection
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