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Yakov and the Seven Thieves
A classically painted array of houses, with a pair of green old shoes placed near the bottom of the picture. The book and author name are written in cursive script in a box in the middle.
Book cover for Yakov and the Seven Thieves
Author Madonna
Illustrator Gennady Spirin
Cover artist Gennady Spirin
Country United States
Subject Moral
Genre Children's literature
Set in 18th century
Publisher Callaway
Publication date
June 21, 2004
Media type
  • Print
  • Audio book
Pages 32
ISBN 978-0-670-05887-7
OCLC 54852649
LC Class PZ7.M26573

Yakov and the Seven Thieves is a picture book written by American entertainer Madonna. It was released on June 21, 2004, by Callaway Arts & Entertainment in over 110 countries and 38 different languages, including a Braille edition. The book contains a moral tale and was inspired by a 300 year-old story by rabbi Baal Shem Tov, that Madonna had heard from her Kabbalah teacher. The premise was set in a small, 18th century town in Eastern Europe, and the story talks about how everyone has the ability to open the gates of heaven, however unworthy one is deemed to be.

The cover art and the images inside were painted by Russian illustrator Gennady Spirin who chose Baroque painting as inspiration for crafting the characters and the scenery. Like her previous endeavors, Madonna promoted the release by appearing on talk show and reading to children at a hospital in London. Critics gave mixed review of the book, with reviews being mostly negative about Madonna's writing but praised Spirin's illustrations. Three weeks after its release, Yakov and the Seven Thieves debuted at number seven on The New York Times Best Seller list in the category for Children's Picture books.


A cobbler called Yakov and his wife Olga are frightened that their gravely ill son Mikhail is dying. They hear about a man of healing who lives in the last house of their village and Yakov goes to him for guidance. The man refuses Yakov's money, instead clarifies that if he can save Yakov's son, the cobbler can repay by making a pair of shoes for his grandson.

The next day, Yakov visited the man only to be told that when he had prayed, the gates of heaven would not open. The distressed cobbler begged him to try yet one more time. The healer asked his grandson to go into the village and find all the thieves, pickpockets and criminals, and bring them back to the house. They included the thieves Vladimir the Villain who could bend metal and punch holes through stones, Boris the Barefoot Midget who snatched the purse of old ladies, Ivan the Arsonist, Petra the Pickpocket, Stinky Pasha, Sadko the Snake, Igor the Tiger, all of them being a large host of ne'er-do-wells.

With the healer's direction, the thieves all got on their knees and started to pray. A miracle occurred and the prayers of the men, who previously robbed by opening gates, helped to open the gates of heaven and Yakov's son was healed. The next day, Yakov came with a new pair of shoes for the grandson and declared that Mikhail was alive and well. It was the prayers of the gang of crooks that made a difference.

Obvious cultural references for Russian readers and classical music fans
Name Opera title and/or composer, or other references
Sadko the Snake Sadko by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (the Dragon)
Igor the Tiger Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin (the Snake)
Boris the Barefoot Midget Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky (the Pig)
Ivan the Arsonist Ivan Susanin by Mikhail Glinka (the Rat)
Petra the Pickpocket Peter Tchaikovsky (the Rat)
Vladimir the Villain Vladimir the Great
Stinky Pasha diminutive from 'Pavel': Paul I of Russia (the Dog)
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