Artists Add New Voice To Children's Books

Seeking a crossover of a different kind, top recording artists Madonna and LeAnn Rimes are about to invade the children's book market. "Artists are starting to realize how important the children's aud

Seeking a crossover of a different kind, top recording artists Madonna and LeAnn Rimes are about to invade the children's book market. "Artists are starting to realize how important the children's audience is," says Stephanie Owens Lurie, president/publisher of Dutton Children's Books, which on Aug. 25 is releasing "Jag," the first book by country/pop artist Rimes. "The children's audience has a lot of spending money and influence over what their parents buy for them."

Madonna's first children's book, "The English Roses," due Sept. 15, is expected to be published in 42 different languages in more than 100 countries. It is said to be the widest simultaneous multi-language release ever for a book. "We're going to have a new generation of children who may very well think of Madonna as a children's book author first," says Nicholas Callaway, editor/publisher of Callaway Editions.

Madonna's work will be released by various publishers around the world. The Penguin Group has secured the English-language rights; Callaway will handle publishing of the books in the U.S., with Penguin as the distributor. Callaway Editions is projecting that the first U.S. printing of the 48-page "The English Roses" will exceed 400,000 copies.

To build anticipation for "The English Roses," the plot and the identities of the characters will not be revealed until the title is published. Callaway says the books were Madonna's idea and that she will author them herself without ghost writers. He adds that Madonna will donate her publishing proceeds to charity.

A multilayered international marketing blitz is planned for "The English Roses." Gap Kids will dedicate about 500 of its retail-store windows to the book and will give limited-edition tote bags to customers who buy the title along with $75 worth of Gap merchandise (Madonna has a Gap endorsement deal).

In addition, Madonna will attend launch parties Sept. 14 in London and Sept. 15 in Paris. She is scheduled to do a reading of the book Sept. 16 on an as-yet-unannounced U.S. TV broadcast.

As for Rimes, she will also enjoy a significant promotion campaign for "Jag," which she co-wrote with her husband, Dean Sheremet. Media exposure includes CBS programs "The Early Show" and "48 Hours," VH1 and ABC Radio. On Aug. 25, Rimes will appear on NBC's "Today" and sign books at Barnes & Noble's Fifth Avenue location in New York.

"Jag" is about a young female jaguar dealing with issues of friendship and insecurity. "The story has a lot to do with my experiences growing up," Rimes tells Billboard. "I was picked on by other kids at school, and I think a lot of kids are dealing with those life experiences right now. The message of the book is be yourself, conquer your fears and stand up for yourself in a good way."

Rimes has inked a deal with Dutton, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, to write a sequel to "Jag." The sequel, which has the working title, "Jag's New Friend," is scheduled for publication in 2004. Rimes says that she and her husband have developed about five story ideas for other books. "I'm writing children's books because I wanted to connect with my fan base of small children, and I think this is a cool way to do it other than my music," she adds.