Mama Don't Preach

The unnatural pose of Madonna and children

This strange lifelessness is where the new Madonna really fails. Traditionally, Madonna doesn't so much reinvent herself as she reinvents the genres in which she dabbles: religious statuary, cowboy threads, and power suits all became sexy and chic when endorsed by Madonna, but this time Mae is all-the-way out of her league. Aside from the character names, which sound like dirty jokes waiting to happen (Mr. Peabody, Mr. Funkadeli, the aforementioned Tittlebottom), there's no room for sex in this book, and if you strip Madonna of her naughtiness she doesn't have much to offer.

Of course, Mr. Peabody will probably not be left wondering where everybody is: Like The English Roses before it, this book will sell. The dust jacket cheerfully proclaims Apples "The second of five books for children (even grown-up ones) by Madonna." Press releases declare that "Mr. Peabody's Apples will be released in 37 languages and more than 110 countries." As Madonna-as-Breathless once sang, "What can you lose?"

In her dedication "to teachers everywhere," Madonna acknowledges her kabbalistic source: "It is about the power of words. And how we must choose them carefully to avoid causing harm to others." (Too bad it is not about the power of punctuation. And how we must use it carefully to avoid sentence fragments.) Never mind that teachers everywhere have been trying to keep Madonna out of their classrooms for decades, or that teachers at my elementary school had to purge the word "Madonna" from religious lessons. Suddenly, Mrs. Ritchie wants to hang out in the teachers' lounge, sharing the wisdom of the ages. She concludes with a humble appeal to her guru: "I hope I have done his story justice."

She hasn't, of course, but it hardly matters. In Madonna's hands words may be stripped of their power to inspire or teach, but the book itself is a testament to the very potency of celebrity. Apples will be released in over 100 countries, and there will be three more books, regardless of the quality of the work or the enthusiasm of grown-up children. The folks at Callaway have good reason for their faith in the Holy Name: They published the scandalously best-selling Sex back in 1992. Of course, you won't read that on the book jacket. That's the power of words.

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