Lotsa de Casha by Madonna (Penguin, hardback $190) In this, the latest of her five illustrated picture books, the performer Madonna tells the story of a 'man' (actually he appears to be an anthropomorphic dog of some sort) named Lotsa de Casha. He's a merchant and by far the richest in the country, but he's still a gloomy old sourpuss. One day he embarks on a quest to rid himself of his unhappiness, and sets off with 'his brightest carriage, his fastest horses, and his biggest sandwiches' to see a wise man he's heard about. As all quests go, he hits several bumps in the road. For starters, the wise man turns out to be a disappointment, as far as Lotsa is concerned. But, in the course of his journey, Lotsa learns about gratitude and humility, hard work, and caring and sharing. Didactic, yes, but this doesn't need to be a bad thing, especially when you're sitting and reading it with a child on your lap. Interspersed throughout the story are six 'facts', which one can assume are Madonna's own learned nuggets of wisdom. 'Fact Number 1: Just because something's expensive, doesn't mean it's worth it'. Obviously, Madonna would have plenty of opportunity to figure that one out on a grand scale. Most of these six 'facts' are easy enough for any youngster to understand, such as 'Fact Number Five: Smiling is contagious', and the final one: 'When you learn to share, you will not only find happiness. You will also find a friend.' But I must admit that Fact Number 3 caused my child and I some consternation: 'When you tell people the truth, they usually slam the door in your face.' As an adult, I understand the point, but as a parent, I'm not sure I want to convey the idea that telling the truth can bring unwanted consequences. Not yet, anyway. The story is rich in terms of both text and illustrations. Once again, the makers of Madonna's books have found a talented illustrator in Portuguese artist Rui Paes, whose work reminds me of the days when each painted picture in a children's book was a work of art. Madonna writes the story with imaginative detail, as well as a flip sense of prose styling. The story itself is important, too. Put it all together and it's one to keep. Verdict: Lotsa style.