Madonna’s The Adventure of Abdi


The Adventures of Abdi, by Madonna,

illustrated by Olga Dugina and Andrej Dugin

Reviewed by Susan Fry

Children’s books by celebrities have always made me nervous.  After all, what are the chances that someone who can sing/dance/act can also produce a great book?  It seems unlikely – not to mention unfair – that one person would have so much talent.

Luckily, the The Adventures of Abdi by Madonna (yes, that Madonna) changed my mind.  It’s a satisfyingly traditional tale set somewhere in the Middle East, aimed at kids who may be just a little too young for The Arabian Nights.  The language, the illustrations, and the story itself manage convey an exotic setting without losing the interest of younger children.

The very first sentence, for example, borrows just enough from the flowery storytelling style of the Nights:  “Long ago, in a land far away from the one we know, where sand and mountains stretched as far as the eye could see, and snake charmers wandered the streets, there lived a little boy named Abdi.”

Abdi is the servant of Eli the jeweler, who has the impossible task of creating a necklace for the queen in just four weeks.  But as the philosophical Eli reminds Abdi, “[Remember] that everything we have been given in life is always for the best.”

This proves to be the moral of the story.  When Abdi takes Eli’s necklace to the queen, thieves steal it and replace it with a real snake.  Abdi is thrown into prison.  He tries to remain positive, and his attitude is rewarded when Eli comes to the rescue – he convinces the queen to place the real snake around her neck, where it turns into the necklace.

The final, delightful touch?  On the way home, Eli’s story prompts the thieves to set off to the queen’s palace with a sack full of snakes that, needless to say, don’t transform into jewelry.

The gorgeous illustrations don’t just echo the story’s magical elements – they magnify them.  Giant pumpkins grow on the roof of Eli’s house; Abdi watches a dragon curl across the night sky; the king’s pet has the body of a jaguar and the wings of a bird.  The colors are muted, which means the intricate details take on their own flamboyance.  Geometric squares echo the patterns of Middle Eastern carpets, and every piece of clothing or metal is ornately decorated.  Thanks to the illustrators, even the peripheral characters seem to have their own, intriguing stories.  A snake charmer wears a giant snake as a hat, and a palace guard straps an innumerable number of spiky weapons on his belt.

The only sour note?  The illustrators weren’t given equal billing with Madonna.  Her name is the only one that appears on the front of the book.  I guess that’s the reason she is, after all, a celebrity.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

You can check out the Sweet Peas & Stilettos’ children’s books page for quick access to all of Susan’s wonderful children’s book reviews.

Sweet Peas & Stilettos has more children’s books by celebrity mom authors. Come take a look.

Jessica Simpson

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