CTV News.ca Staff
Date: Wed. Aug. 24 2011 7:45 AM ET
A children’s book that doesn’t go on sale for another two months has sparked a flurry of outrage online from critics who say the tale promotes eating disorders and teaches kids to self-hate.
The book, entitled “Maggie Goes on a Diet,” tells the story of teenaged Maggie and how her life is “transformed” after she goes on a diet, starts exercising and loses weight.
According to a description of the book at Amazon.com, Maggie “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.”
The book’s cover art depicts a heavyset girl holding up a pink dress as she looks in the mirror. The image reflected back shows a thinner version of herself.
The book, which will be available in October, is aimed at children as young as four, and the blogosphere has exploded with criticism for author Paul M. Kramer.
The Guardian’s “The Women’s Blog” asked in its headline if the book is “the worst idea ever?”
“Perhaps in Hawaii it’s perfectly OK to read a book to your highly impressionable six-year-old daughter about a teenage girl, at the prime age for developing anorexia,” sniped writer Laura Barnett.
Over at “Bitch” magazine, blogger Ashley McAllister introduced her piece on the book with, “In this week’s douchey children’s lit news…”.
McAllister went on: “The message behind this book is clearly telling young girls that they’ll only be happy and “normal” if they’re thin, AS IF THEY AREN’T FED THAT MESSAGE OFTEN ENOUGH ALREADY.”
At BabyCenter.com, blogger Lindsay Weiss questions the book’s title, saying the word diet “should never be a key word in a child’s picture book. And the cover illustration is downright scary — it clearly implies it’s all about fitting into the dress.”
The book is available for pre-order at several online booksellers, including Amazon.com, where customers have tagged the book with the expressions, “teaching kids to self-hate,” “give your children neuroses,” “anorexia bait,” “if you hate your daughter,” and “sexist drivel.”
Dr. Peter Neiman, who deals with children at the Pediatric Weight Clinic in Calgary concedes the book is riddled with “red flags,” but hesitates to dismiss it entirely.
“The book is well intended, the execution is not good,” Neiman told CTV News, explaining that a more carefully chosen title might have made a big difference to its reception.
“I can see some of my colleagues in the field of eating disorders just cringe when they see the title of the book,” he said, suggesting that substituting a refence to “healthy lifestyle” would send a more positive message.
“If you focus just on food you may spread eating disoders rather than lifestyle which is not focusing as much on the word diet.”
On his website, the book’s author says his passion “is writing children’s books that deal with the issues that kids face today.” Other books he has written include “Bullies Beware!” and “Do Not Dread Wetting the Bed.”
On Tuesday, he appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to defend the book, saying Maggie’s story will help children make healthier lifestyle choices.
“My 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 do exercise, try to emulate Maggie and learn from Maggie’s experience,” Kramer said. “Children are pretty smart … and they will make a good choice if you give them that opportunity.”
Kramer also argued that critics are judging the book by its cover, rather than waiting to read it when it is available in the fall.
Kramer has at least one woman on his side. Over at “The Frisky,” blogger Jessica Wakeman tells readers to “stick a donut in your mouth and shut up for a second.”
While she acknowledges that the book can “be used by fat-hating and fat-shaming parents and grandparents to mess up their kids,” she said the blame for that sort of behaviour rests with those adults.
She also defends Kramer, saying, “Not every person who cares about encouraging an obese child to eat more healthfully and to exercise more has terrible intentions.”
Wakeman points out Kramer’s previous books that are designed to help children through awkward or painful experiences.
“Like anything else involving what parents expose their children to,” she says, “whether this book helps or harms a child depends on how the parents use it.”
With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip
What is the world coming to? Is this book necessary to help kids learn to “build their self-esteem”? Or is this just a ploy by the author to stir up controversy?
Should we not “judge a book by its cover” as the author suggests?