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Review: Maggie Goes on a Diet, Paul M Kramer

Maggie Goes on a Diet; Paul M. Kramer

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.

After the game Maggie was sad / It was certainly one of the worst days that Maggie ever had / Maggie was anxious and depressed and not thinking clearly / She was holding on to her dignity but only just barely / Searching the refrigerator in hopes she would feel better / eating lots of bread and cheeses including some cheddar / Maggie was not going to let anything else upset her

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.

Link time!

Shapely Prose has a list of fat positive kidlit and Red No.3 has been having fun with Maggie. I do not know this person, but goddammit I love them.

EDITED TO ADD: Here is another, less shouty review of Maggie from Our Family World.

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.

43 responses »

  1. OMG!!!! This is awful, I would NEVER buy a book for my daughters like this, this is awful!!! What on earth is the motivation for the author??? Shocking!

  2. I would have a word with the publisher and give the author a good talking to about male privilege.

  3. To the bitch who wrote this review. It must be sad living with yourself. You are so full of hate and disdain. You are incorrect in saying that the author would not have sent you a copy of this book, because the author would have believing that the book should not be judged by its cover. You are entitled to say what you may and criticise my or another persons work if you choose, but to call me an awful man without even knowing me just shows your ignorance and poor upbringing. You also compare Maggie’s weight loss by means of an acceptable weight loss guide and claim that her weight loss was not with-in those guide lines, when they clearly were. You might consider taking a course in remedial math. It will not help with your anger issues and being a mean, lonely person looking for attention wherever you can get it, but it will help your basic math skills.
    The auther of “Maggie Goes On A Diet.”
    Paul M. Kramer

    • What excellent PR skill you have. Well done.

    • Mr Kramer, first of all, bravo for leaving such a stinging response. Hurrah for you. Anger issues? Damned right the reviewer has anger issues. WITH YOUR BOOK.

      If there is one thing in this review that you should take heed of, regardless of how you feel about being criticised (you are an author in the public eye, get over it, it happens)

      “I can guarantee that Maggie’s self-esteem will be tied to her weight for the rest of her life.”

      This is true. It happens to thousands of girls, all the time. Your book will contribute to this. It doesn’t matter what you say to defend it, or what vitriol you write in response. Your book will have an effect, it just won’t be the one which I assume you intended it to have.

      HEALTHY is a good message. THIN is not. I suggest you go and look at some pro-ANA websites to see just what this kind of talk, this kind of writing, will do.

      Teaching self love, not body hatred, now THAT would be a best seller. Maybe you can get on to that next.

      • “This is true. It happens to thousands of girls, all the time.”


        Men have the same problem. If you don’t want men to judge all women based on the pretty ones, don’t judge men the same way. Not all overweight men are jolly and accepted.

        • The suggestion that this happens to girls all the time does not inherently include the a suggestion that it does not happen to people of other genders. Nevertheless, this is a book about a young girl, aimed at even younger girls, so the traditional ‘what about teh menz’ moan is really not pertinent to this discussion.

          That said, if you can provide an example of boys being indoctrinated to conform to a particular societal ideal to such a damaging extent within the medium of children’s literature I would be glad to hear about it. Male protagonists in kidlit outnumber female by a ratio of 2:1, and are, in general, much more likely to perfom outside the bounds of archetype than female characters.

      • “but to call me an awful man without even knowing me just shows your ignorance and poor upbringing.”

        How considerate of you, then, to have stepped forward and removed all doubt.

    • So let me get this right – you’re attempting to challenge the reviewer’s focus (in one instance) on you rather than your book, and you do so by attacking (throughout your response) her rather than her review?

    • I am drowning in the irony of the reviewee claiming the reviewer has anger issues in the same breath as calling her a “bitch”. I don’t know about anyone else, but I really don’t think I’d buy children’s books from any author willing to name-call like that, regardless of the quality of the writing.

      • Actually, I’m enjoying the irony of someone who wrote this book saying ‘the author would have believing that the book should not be judged by its cover’ which seems to be the opposite of what the book suggests.

    • Vicky Brewster

      Any comment on the reviewer’s actual issues with your book, now you’re done just calling her an angry bitch?

    • Adam vanLangenberg

      Hahaha, thanks for making this my favourite review of the day, you spiteful little idiot.

    • Despite me usual opinion of arguing on the internet, I don’t feel that I can walk away form this so please excuse me while I address this piece by piece:

      “To the bitch who wrote this review. It must be sad living with yourself. You are so full of hate and disdain.”

      This is a wonderful example of what a friend many years ago referred to as “guerilla arguing”. It’s a method of shutting down criticism and discussion by attacking the person instead of what was written. It’s often used by people who cannot defend their position in the face of facts or logic, along with those who just do not have the skill to respond in a more appropriate manner.

      “You are incorrect in saying that the author would not have sent you a copy of this book, because the author would have believing that the book should not be judged by its cover.”

      This may be true, but seeing as the reviewer has purchased a copy of the book precisely in order to not judge it solely on its cover, I am unsure what point you are attempting to make here.

      “You are entitled to say what you may and criticise my or another persons work if you choose, but to call me an awful man without even knowing me just shows your ignorance and poor upbringing.”

      So what exactly does your above judgement on the reviewer’s education and on her parents’ child raising skills show? You have much less to go on than she has.

      “You also compare Maggie’s weight loss by means of an acceptable weight loss guide and claim that her weight loss was not with-in those guide lines, when they clearly were. You might consider taking a course in remedial math.”

      It is true that in terms of the rate of the weight loss, you’ve put it right in line with those guidelines. Perhaps you need to re-read and consider the point of the reviewer’s statement along with the following maths:
      3 stone is 42 pounds.
      The total weight lost by Maggie is 51 pounds.
      That’s greater than 3 stone, and hence greater than the level of weight loss that should be attempted by a child without medical and psychological supervision.

      “It will not help with your anger issues and being a mean, lonely person looking for attention wherever you can get it, but it will help your basic math skills.”

      You might consider taking a course in anger management. It may help you learn how to respond to criticism in an appropriate manner – that is, without resorting to name-calling and maybe even addressing more than one of the issues raised in the review.

    • Jennifer Playforth

      To the “auther” who lacks a decent grasp of basic punctuation (have you tried reading this aloud? I see many missed opportunities for comma usage, to improve the flow of your writing and the reader’s ability to pause for breath).

      Bravo. You have responded in the classical style of Person Scorned on the Internet; get in a profanity early on to set the tone, then personally attack the reviewer’s Mum, basically. Similar rants are to be found on forums the Internet over. “Yeah, well you’re a moron and your Mum’s the town bike” (please note my toned down profanity; you’ve seen the real deal enough times).

      You have failed to address any of the real concerns that the reviewer has posed; most importantly that many of your readership’s self esteem will be tied to their weight for the rest of their lives. This does not mean that they will maintain a healthy weight within a healthy lifestyle, and their self esteem will flourish. Rather, they will likely adopt “emotional eating” and their weight will continually rise and fall, often in line with severe and unhealthy dieting without a sensible exercise regime, followed by periods of binge eating, possibly with guilt leading to bulimic disorders.

      Nobody is suggesting that your book alone is the sole cause of this misery; many people have long tried to reduce the influence on others of the whole Diet Industry, of which you are now part. I am not against healthy eating, or weight loss as a result of combined healthy eating and exercise without unrealistic and flawed expectations of this leading to popularity, sporting prowess and generally Winning at Life. Your book promotes this expectation and denigrates the aptitude of those who don’t fit within your rigid structure. I used to flagellate myself with variations on your particular schtick. Thankfully, as I grew into a woman and a mother, I have eventually learned that I am just as valuable and successful at a size 18 as I am at a size 10 (UK sizing, and I have been both and all sizes between). I have been reasonably healthy at both ends of my size continuum. I continue to strive to increase my health through healthy eating and exercise, but the weight I am does not define me. There are people in this world who will judge me by my weight; I have no need for their judgement or their validation on those grounds. Books like yours anger and sadden me because of the effect they will have on those vulnerable to these messages, as once I was. Your response to this valid critique is ill thought out, and very indicative of the sort of person you are. I do hope that you take some of our thoughts on board, rather than dismissing us as bitches with sad, lonely lives.

    • Cookie Monster

      How do we really know it is you? If it isn’t you, maybe he should sue you for Slander.

    • The style of this comment is uncannily similar to ‘amy’, who leaves a suspiciously positive review of this book on Amazon and has no other reviews to her credit. ‘Amy’ claims to be a teacher, but has similarly incompetent spelling to Kramer’s above. Can someone please investigate this further and ask Amazon to check the IP addresses involved?

  4. I did think that, grim as it is, Maggie Goes on a Diet was too petty a target to get riled up over. Tacky, ideological kids’ books are published all the time, and most of them choke, as this one probably will. Then I saw the comment from Mr Kramer, and now I think: bring it on. Kick it hard. Make him look like an ass in every corner of the internet.

    Dieting is the absolute way of reaching a healthy weight for anyone, of any size. Increased activity and long-term shifts in eating help. Self-denial and self-hatred are ruinous. Pushing them on kids is vile ignorance. Pushing them on *girl* kids is vile sexist ignorance. Doing it in clumsy, contorted, ill-scanning rhyme? That’s just plain inhuman.

  5. Mr Kramer, Cath is not a sad lonely person, she is a delightful person with lots of friends. She reviewed your book and gave it 0 out of 10, the chances you would agree with her were 0 out of 10.

    There is a place for a book about heathy eating and exercise for chidren, but this books is not it.

    Please note it is never appropriate to call a woman a bitch!

    • Steve Roberts

      “To the bitch who wrote this review……. to call me an awful man without even knowing me just shows your ignorance and poor upbringing”
      And to call someone (that you don’t even know) a “bitch” shows …?

  6. A small point amongst all the others, but did anyone notice that at the end of his missive Mr Kramer proclaims himself the “auther” of the book.

    That says quite a lot on its own.

  7. There are healthy and sensible ways to encourage children and adults to eat right and exercise safely. This book does not sound like one of them.
    I’m astounded at the poor judgement of the publishers.
    This Kramer fellow does not sound like a nice person or a very “gud auther”. I would pay serious money to see him fight hot lava.

    • Thomas Thurman

      “I’m astounded at the poor judgement of the publishers.”

      The publishers are Aloha Publishers (or Aloha Publicher’s LLC, according to their website), who appear to be owned by Paul Kramer and to exist largely as a vehicle for putting his work into print. In other words, it’s effectively self-published.

  8. LOL @ “auther” … that says it all really. A man that can’t spell his profession cannot be taken seriously.

  9. Jeannie Williams

    So, what have we learnt about the “auther” so far: can’t spell, can’t do the math, and, oh, limited lexicon.

  10. What a vile reply from the “auther”. Time to go slay this in the Amazon reviews, no?

    • Can you believe he also wrote a book on How to Seduce Women?

      • I assure you it is equally badly written, and equally misogynistic.

        “Keep in mind that women are in love with love so be lovely in your gesture, make her feel wanted by use of words that are. Always keep an eye contact while talking to her and then be warm. Try touching her hands or playing with her hair and her lips etc while the dinner or the conversation, and the best drink is always the wine or the champagne.”

        SOUND ADVICE, wrapped up in EXEMPLARY ENGLISH.

        • Words that are. Words that are what?

          And don’t be touching my lips during dinner, I’ll bite you. No man gets between me and dinner.

          This chap needs to go back to school. No wonder he is self published. Any self respecting Editor would cry at this mangling of the English language.
          Also, Mr Kramer? The best drink is always the one that the lady wishes to drink, not what you decide is best for her.

        • I found it on Amazon! I think it needs more quotes to demonstrate the quality of the writing. Beginning of chapter 1: “It is a common though [sic] process of the men that the women would love sex in anyway [sic] that the man gives but then even women have their demands and they too enjoy it like the men, most of the dates if the not the first, ends [sic] up in the bed.” Grammar? What is that? Proofreading? But I already put the definite aritcle in the front of all the nouns! LULZ!!! I would totally hire that guy to write something.

  11. The Cookie Monster who pretend to be the author!

    I am going to pretend to be the author and make his look like a bad person. Real mature guys.

    The Cookie Monster.

  12. The image of Maggie crouched at the fridge is just…. I dont have enough words in my lexicon to describe the horrible self imaging this invokes. This whole book enforces the culturally prevalent idea that all fat people binge eat, eat unhealthy, eat too much, eat in shame. It furthers the notion that fat people shouldn’t eat, since that is the only way they could possibly be fat (there are a number of medical conditions that has nothing to do with food consumption itself that causes obesity). This book enforces the notion that fat people should be ashamed to be in public. This book is encouraging unhealthy mental attachments to size and weight instead of overall health.

    As a person who has been fat shamed many times in public places simply for having the audacity to eat a meal in public while fat, I feel this book is dangerous to the mental health of anyone who reads it, male, female, young, old, etc.

    Dear “Auther” Fat and thin have SOME correlation with health, but are certainly not outward indicators of health or lack thereof. A thin person is not necessarily a healthy person, just the same as a fat person is not necessarily an unhealthy person. Ive met a good number of people I would consider “thin” that have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc.

    Also, dear Auther, calling someone a bitch then complaining that they called you mean without even knowing you is a particularly delicious form of hypocrisy.

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    OH GOSH! What were they thinking!? Fat children should be happy and proud of their weight. Clearly a book trying to get unhealthy children to be healthier is just disgusting. I honestly can’t believe that somebody should have the GALL to try and convey exercise and healthy eating to children. It’s not like it’s an actual topic that’s coming more and more into focus, or anything. It’s just sexist men and the media trying to make us feel bad for not looking like we actually should. I for one expect all of my children to be at least 45 pounds overweight at any given time and they will not be doing any sports while living under my roof.

    Also, I firmly believe that my children only read things that have been strictly filtered so they never feel bad or read something that isn’t 130% politically correct. Because clearly children are too stupid (NOT THROUGH MY PARENTING OF COURSE, IT’S THE MEDIA) to tell the difference between reality and tacky picture book.

    You’re all sickening and I hope you read this and tell me about my thin privilege.

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