Not too long ago I wrote an article on a recently released children’s book called “Maggie Goes on a Diet“. I criticized the book for sending the wrong message to young, impressionable girls and claimed that the book promoted the idea that in order to be successful, happy and popular you had to be skinny. Regrettably, I said all these things without ever reading the book. I was influenced by the large amount of media attention and negative press the book was harboring and, unfortunately, I jumped on the bandwagon without looking at the book from a neutral standpoint.
Well, my “burn him at the stake” attitude about both the author and the book caught up with me as Paul M. Kramer, the author of the book, contacted me. Naturally Mr. Kramer was displeased with my interpretation of his book and felt like I unjustly “judged the book by its cover”, which I can confirm that I did. Mr. Kramer sent me a copy of the book to read personally so that I could do what I should have done in the first place, read it, and give my personal opinion about it instead of following the crowd. And that’s exactly what I did.
I should start off by saying that the version of the book I received was slightly modified from the original. The book I received was titled “Maggie Eats Healthier”. Aside from dropping the word “diet” from the title altogether, the book also changed one line of the book from “The very next morning Maggie’s diet had begun” to “The very next morning Maggie’s lifestyle change had begun”. To many, as well as myself, dropping the word diet from the book seemed to make a huge difference in my perception.
The book was no longer about putting a young girl on a diet and instead was about a young girl, unhappy with herself and how others treated her, who wanted to do something about it. In general, the story centers around 14 year-old Maggie who is overweight, has low self-esteem and is constantly bullied by her peers for being fat. In response to all of this, Maggie decides to start exercising, eating healthier and generally trying to better her own, personal lifestyle.
After reading the book myself, I agree that I was initially too harsh on the content. I honestly do believe, however, that the word “diet” has such a negative undertone to it that using it in a children’s book seems a little wrong. However, Mr. Kramer’s revision to “eating healthier” is a far better way to get his message across and, in my opinion, a much easier pill for the public to swallow. Healthy eating habits should be learned at a young age and diets, I feel, are a very adult thing.
Getting into the content of the book, I feel that it serves multiple purposes. For one, it brings to light the cruelty of children. I believe that the book can teach children that just because somebody is a little bigger than them doesn’t mean that they are any less of a person and that they too have feelings that can be just as easily hurt as their own. The book also shows just how much this bullying can influence children. As a result of the bullying, Maggie turns to food for comfort but it only numbs the pain, it doesn’t make it go away.
The book also brings to the table the issue of self-esteem. Self-esteem is very important, especially with children. Low self-esteem can have devastating effects on a child’s physical and mental health, as well as their performance in school. When Maggie begins to eat healthier, her self-esteem increases, she feels better about herself, she is happier and her performance in school even increases. I think that this book sends the right message to children about having confidence in themselves and being able to accomplish anything if they just put their minds to it.
I will say that I felt some of the lines in the book would be a little inappropriate for very young girls. When the book was first listed on Amazon, it was listed a book for children ages 4 to 8. Mr. Kramer personally told me that this is incorrect and I agree. I personally feel like the book is appropriate for children ages 10 to 13. Around this time children (girls especially) start maturing and this is one of the most important phases in their development.
This book can teach children many things. It can teach them that eating healthy and exercising is important and that it is extremely important to have self-esteem and self-confidence. It can also teach kids that picking on other kids and bullying them, especially because of their weight, is never okay and is not something that they should ever do.
The fact that Maggie never really goes on a diet is the main thing in this book. All she really does is cut out junk food (though she does allow herself one normal-sized treat a week), eat healthier foods and exercise. By doing so, Maggie feels better about herself and actually betters herself as well. I will say that the book does lightly imply that she becomes popular as a result of becoming fit. I would not go as far as to say that the flat out message is “you have to be skinny to be popular” but I could see some people interpreting it that way. I would suggest a page or two of the book could have been devoted to telling about the people that were mean apologizing to Maggie after she becomes healthy.
Overall, my initial judgment of the book was wrong. I think that this book could help decrease the growing threat of childhood obesity, which has tripled in the last 20 years, or at least shed some light on the issue. I do believe that the revisions to the title and the few lines in the book were necessary. The word “diet” sends the wrong message to people everywhere and can cause some pretty vicious attacks. It makes me very sad when I see a little girl who is overweight or obese, especially at such a young age. If this book can help even one girl, it will all have been worth it.
I would like to express my apologies to Mr. Kramer for my unjust criticism of his book and applaud him on writing about something that most authors probably wouldn’t ever consider writing.