Published December 2011, Aloah Publishing . Hardback. List price £10.99
Appropriate for ages 6-10.
From the cover:
This book is about a 14 year old girl who changed her eating habits and began playing sports. She stareted eating and enjoying healthy and nutitious foods which slowly began to transform her life. Maggie became happier and more physically fit. Through time, excerise and hard work, Maggie’s self image and confidence improved steadily.
The most anticipated (by me) book of the year is finally here. After delays and push backs Maggie Goes on a Diet is officially For Sale (in the US. For some reason it’s not been shipped to Amazon UK). But I have one, and yes, I paid money for it (the author wasn’t exactly going to give me a review copy, now was he?) and here it is in all its cheaply printed pink glory.
You may recall the bit of a tizzy I got in when this book first hit my radar. My indignation spread like a fire in a heavily wooded area. Within days the Feminists of the internet, parenting sites and pro-ana blogs* had picked up the story, and news orgs from Italy to New Zealand, the US to Norway, and were reporting on the horror of Maggie Goes on a Diet. Everyone from the LA Times to the Daily Mail got in on the acrimony. Facebook groups were set up that called for a boycott of the book (as well as some supporting the publication). After three days, I stopped counting, lay back and proclaimed my work here is done! After a week the outrage was so bad that author Paul Kramer took to Good Morning America to defend himself. When I first came across Maggie Goes on a Diet I was amazed that the only hit on Google was Aloah publishing; now there are more than 4,020,000 hits. I hate to blow my own trumpet (oh, wait, I don’t), but I think I done broke a story. It gives me a warm fuzzy.
So, is Maggie Goes on a Diet really that bad? According to the blurb, it preaches healthy eating and participation in sports as a way to boost self-confidence. Well, now the book has been released. Since no one else is going to buy it, I don’t feel so bad about parting with £8.50 in order to have a look beyond the cover.
But before we do that, lets take a look at the cover art again. We’re not supposed to judge a book in this way, but lets, just for the fun of it.
Maggie stares whistfully at her noticably thinner reflection, holding up to her body a perfectly hideous pink frock. She is supposed to be 14 years old. She looks about 10. This image suggests quite heavily that inside Maggie is a thin girl, just bursting to get out. It’s not a good start. Then there’s the use of the word ‘diet’. I doubt this book would’ve drawn as much criticism were it called ‘Maggie Learns about Healthy Eating’.
There are many concerns here, but here’s a big one. I can guarantee that Maggies self-esteem will be tied to her weight for the rest of her life. Since Maggie is a fictional character, I’m okay with that. But what of the six- or ten-year-old that follows Maggies example and diets herself? Say she drops 20 pounds and fits into her pretty pink frock. Will it make her popular? Maybe. Does she really want friends who only like her when she’s skinny? No.
Maggie is teased for being overweight. When Maggie loses weight, she becomes popular. This book teaches that it’s okay to tease and jab at people for their perceived flaws. Nag them til they change! “Maggie is accepting,’ says Kramer, “that kids are mean [and] she has decided to do something about it.” Maggie’s idea of ‘doing something about it’ is to change herself. Not to confront her bullies, teach them kindness or educate them on fat acceptance. To change herself. Maggie may reap the benefits of being fitter, but her motivation for doing so is, to put it mildly, fucked up. Has no one told her that you can be fit and fat? That taunting people for their weight it absolutely not okay? Where are her parents in all this? Where are her teachers?
But enough Feminist ranting. Let’s talk about the literary merits of this book.
That little rhyme up there? Not a parody. Maggie Goes on a Diet has absolutely no literary merit whatsoever. Seriously, the text is awful. Written in verse, Kramer strives for rhythm and misses completely. It’s clunky, the rhymes are forced and the whole thing is unpleasant to read; it’s as if Kramer has been taught that as long as the final syllable of a line echoes the previous one, you’ve got verse. It’s truly shudder-worthy.
Okay, this is getting a bit on the long side, so let’s get bullety and address one or two points I feel I can’t ignore:
- Kramer has, to his almost credit, forced in a whole page in which Maggie tells her bullies that she doesn’t like the way they treat her, and asks them how they would feel if they were treated with such bile. The bullies are given no time to react and Kramer’s feelings on this are clear – taunting may be mean but it is acceptable.
- Fat!Maggie is no good at baseball. Dieting Maggie hits a home run. These things are presented as directly related to Maggie’s weight loss. They are not. Remember, kids, correlation is not causation.
- The only motivation Maggie needs to lose weight is the thought of how she’ll look in smaller jeans.
- Maggie is surprised to learn that some healthy foods taste good! REALLY? I NEVER KNEW THAT. THANK YOU, MR KRAMER, FOR SHOWING ME THE WAY.
- A healthy rate of weight loss is considered to be 1-2 lb a week. Maggie loses 30lb in four months; in 10 months she loses 51lb. Alone. I cannot stress this enough – CHILDREN WHO ARE MORE THAN 3 STONE OVERWEIGHT SHOULD NOT BE DIETING WITHOUT MEDICAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL SUPERVISION.
- Thin!Maggie is academically brilliant, ace at sports, popular with her many friends, and boys blush when they see her.
So, yeah. To be fair, the illustrations are not terrible (but they’re not brilliant either). This book has nothing at all to recommend it. Not even as kindling. As a nod to the diversity police, there is, in the back of the book, what I can only laughingly call a ‘poem’. It is called So Many Kinds and it’s all about how ‘that part of us we call our belly’ can come is a range of different shapes and sizes. It’s in keeping with the rest of the book, quality-wise, but it feels tacked-on (which it may well be) and apologist (which it most certainly is). It feels like it’s there to please people like me, and it’s entirely without heart.
There’s been an awful lot of hand-wringing and pearl-clutching over the ‘epidemic’ of childhood obesity in our society. Is it our childrens’ fault that they’re overweight? No. It is the fault of schools who provide appalling lunch choices, of fast-food companies that spend billions on advertising (compared to the coalition’s budget of 14m on the Change 4 Life campaign). Books like Maggie are a symptom of this epidemic, a right-hearted but entirely wrong-headed example of something-must-be-done-ism.
Should Maggie Goes on a Diet be banned? Many bloggers are calling for it to be. It’s toxic, yes, but it absolutely should not be banned. Banning books is an abhorrent practice. It is never okay. If you don’t want your children to read this book, don’t buy it. If you don’t want your pupils or library goers to read this book, don’t buy it. If your daughter comes into contact with this book, talk to her about fitness, and acceptance and, maybe, tell her that Paul Kramer is an awful human being who thinks we should change ourselves to please other people.
I take great pleasure in awarding Maggie Goes on A Diet 0 out of 10.
EDITED AGAIN: Mr Kramer has ignored my (tw0) emails asking him to confirm he is the auther of the comment below. Since he has responded to emails from another address asking more inoccuous questions, I can only assume Mr Kramer does not wish to incriminate himself.
Unfortunately, since I am not a law inforcement agency or legal professional, I am under no obligation to assume Mr Kramer’s silence is anything but an admission of guilt**
*To which I will not link out of principle.
** We do actually have a reasonable amount of circumstantial evidence too, but we’re not sharing to preserve Mr Kramer’s privacy.