A new book called Maggie Goes On a Diet, by Paul M. Kramer, is stirring up a world of controversy before it has even been published. The book is about a 14 year old girl who is desperate to lose weight and in the book she does just that. In an unusual choice by the author the book is written in rhyme and the illustrations are somewhat childish, which leads one to believe that the book is designed for preschoolers or early elementary school kids. A book about going on a diet geared towards little kids- really? I have a suspicion that the audience this book is intended for is a bit older and that the author may have misjudged the literary preferences of his intended readers.
There is apparently a page showing Maggie on a binge eating episode and the book goes onto describe how she gets bullied for being “fat”. Since this book has not yet been released, I can’t really comment on its content other than to say I would be surprised if teenagers or even preteens for that matter are still reading rhyming picture books. After reading an interview with the author I can appreciate what he was trying to convey. He was himself an overweight kid, and while he is not a medical professional or nutritionist, he wanted to write a book that would encourage young kids to live a healthier lifestyle. That certainly seems like a good message to me. It may just be that his efforts were misguided.
What I find most fascinating about the impending release of this book is the incredible outrage people are expressing towards this book before they have even read it. Comments about the book are all over the map. There are those who agree that, while the world is unfairly judgmental, the reality of being made fun of for being different exists and therefore children should be aware of this fact and do what they can to avoid ridicule. If this means going on a diet then so be it. Others are calling for a boycott of the book when it hits the shelves and demanding that Amazon and Barnes and Noble pull their copies. The proponents of the boycott feel that to use the word “diet” at all in a children’s book is inappropriate and that exposure to something like this could cause eating disorders in children and young adults.
There is no doubt that body dysmorphic disorders are an epidemic among the young and the more we can do to encourage our children to feel good about their bodies and maintain healthy habits, the better. I think the idea that a simple book such as this one could cause an eating disorder is a bit farfetched, but I am also not sure that the messages in the book are the ones we necessarily want to be sending to our kids either. Clearly the jury is still out on this little piece of literature and as the saying goes, even bad press is still press. I for one will want to take a peek at the pages of this book when it does reach the stores just to see if all the controversy is actually warranted.