Sorry, I Am Judging This Book By Its Cover

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My jaw dropped when I first saw this cover of a soon-to-be-released book by children’s author Paul M. Kramer. Called Maggie Goes On A Diet, the self-published book stars 14-year-old Maggie who, as the title suggests, changes her eating habits so that she’ll stop being teased at school. The description on Amazon pretty much sums it up:

This book is about a 14 year old girl who goes on a diet and is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star. Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self image.

Maggie may be a teenager but the site clearly lists the reading level as “Ages 4-8” (which makes sense, given the cover – it’s so clearly targeted towards kids. Oh, and the book even rhymes!).

Not surprisingly, people are in a total uproar over this book. It won’t be released ’til October 16 but based on the title alone, it’s caused a major controversy. And with good reason. Just think of the message this is sending to children: be thin and you’ll be happy (or, be fat and you’ll be teased – justifiably).

I get it, I get it – there’s a childhood obesity epidemic at the moment and something needs to be done. I’m just not sure that telling four-year-olds to go on a diet is a way to address the problem. (As an aside, there’s also an eating-disorder epidemic going on among girls; a recent study out of England shows that 600 children below the age of 13 have been treated in hospital for an eating disorder over the past three years – and nearly 200 of those children are aged five to nine.)

I think it’s important to address the obesity issue – and doing so through children’s literature is a great idea – but I’m still irked by the message. A smarter move would have been to write a similar book that has Maggie leading a healthier lifestyle without actually going on a “diet”; I’m sorry, but the word just conjures up too many images of neurotic, obsessive, self-loathing adult and I don’t think it needs to be included in a child’s vocabulary.

The book’s author, Paul Kramer, appeared on Good Morning America this morning to defend his work (you can view the clip below). Once I actually saw what he looked like and what he had to say, I have to admit I softened up a bit (the guy looks and sounds totally innocent, even teddy bear-like – he’s like a well-spoken version of that “double rainbow” dude).

Kramer says he’s “amazed” by the backlash and that his intentions were just to write a story “to entice and to have children feel better about themselves, discover a new way of eating, learn to exercise, try to emulate Maggie and learn from Maggie’s experience.” He also explains that “diet” is a misconstrued word with many meanings; to him, it simply means what it is that you eat each day.

I have to say that after watching this Good Morning America segment, I don’t think that Kramer is any type of evil person who’s out to mess with little children’s heads. I get the impression that he genuinely wants to spread the message that it is possible to improve your self-esteem – and life – by being healthy. I just think that his choice of wording (and imagery) is unfortunate. It just doesn’t sit right with me. Kramer says we shouldn’t be judging the book by its cover but, in this case, I can’t help but do just that.


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