With Mr. Peabody’s Apples, her gorgeous sophomore venture into the realm of children’s literature, Madonna sustains her transformation from material girl to mom. Inspired by a 300-year-old Ukrainian story and illustrated by the talented Loren Long, Madonna’s tale is about the dangers of gossip. As a frequent target of the rumor mill, who better to teach the young ones about the “power of words” and their potential to cause “harm to others” than the newly reformed diva?
Set in a tiny American town, Madonna’s story features the big-hearted and much beloved Mr. Peabody, an elementary school teacher and Little League coach who dedicates his summer Saturdays to the local losing team. The kindly teacher seems to savor life the way he savors his weekly apple–taking pleasure in the little things. One weekend after the game, Tommy Tittlebottom watches Mr. Peabody take his apple without paying for it. The following weekend Tommy calls in reinforcements to witness Mr. Peabody’s transgression. By the next Saturday, Mr. Peabody’s apparent theft has become grist for the Happville rumor mill and no one comes to Little League practice. These moments truly highlight Long’s talents as an illustrator–the handsome Mr. Peabody (part Harry Connick Jr., part Robert Redford) comes to life on the page, his disappointment as palpable as that of Billy Little, the young boy who idolizes him. A simple explanation puts the rumors to rest, but as Mr. Peabody points out in a poignant demonstration, small talk can often lead to big trouble for everyone.
In a wonderful departure from her debut children’s book The English Roses, Madonna has created a tribute to 1940’s small-town America that delivers a fundamental message about respecting others. Children will love Mr. Peabody and parents will appreciate the gentle nudge with which he delivers his message. Mr. Peabody’s Apples unfolds slowly, but readers young and old will want to linger over each illustrated page lovingly rendered in a muted pallet of rich color. –Daphne Durham