November 10, 2003 11:00 AM

Madonna can renew her library card on Monday: Her second children’s book, “Mr. Peabody’s Apples,” is being published.

The book, illustrated by Loren Long, is about a teacher wrongly accused of theft and is set at a Little League baseball game. Its publisher says it has “an American retro feel” to it, though it’s apparently inspired by a 300-year-old tale from the Kabbalah told to Madonna by her spiritual teacher.

For its part, USA Today doesn’t like it, calling the book dreary and heavy-handed, says critic Deirdre Donahue, who really takes a baseball bat to the little volume. Among the many things she carps about is the name of the hero: Billy Little, who happens to be short.

Donahue also finds the book lacking in humor, as well as an understanding of Little League.

By contrast, Madonna’s first children’s book, “The English Roses,” received fairly respectable reviews when it was published in September.

“Roses” was translated into 37 languages and has sold more than 500,000 copies worldwide. It remains on several children’s bestseller lists, though it never rose above the No. 7 position on the USA Today list.

It also was sold at Gap stores, given that Madonna, 45, is the clothing chain’s new pitchwoman.

But the new book will only have an initial print run of 130,000, according to book trade Web site, and it’s not known whether it will be carried at the Gap.

“Mr. Peabody’s Apples” (which is 32 pages long and carries a suggested retail price of $19.95) will be followed in March by a third book, “Yakov and the Seven Thieves.” Two more volumes will follow in June and September, according to

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