Friday, November 28, 2008

Good Book, Bad Book

I can't wait till the latest round of kids'-books-to-combat-childhood-obesity passes. Each one seems more offensive than the last.

Today's review looks at I Get So Hungry, by adult fiction writer Bebe Moore Campbell, who died not long ago. I love Campbell's fiction--usually. But this book, like so many of its ilk, is nothing short of craptacular.

Its main character is a young girl named Nikky who is teased at school for being fat. Nikky is fat because she's a compulsive eater. She eats when she's sad, upset, angry, bored, and hungry. She eats junk food, and lots of it. When her adored and also fat teacher goes on a diet, Nikky wants to also, but her mother won't buy fruits and vegetables--not until she goes to a parent teacher conference and sees how skinny the teacher has become.

This book doesn't even pay lip service to the notion that people come in all shapes and sizes. It equates being fat with being emotionally dysfunctional and/or gluttonous. And it out and out lies: if you eat fruits and vegetables and walk every day, you'll lose lots of weight, according to the book. Oh, and come up with snappy putdowns for your tormentors.

By contrast, a wonderful book called Fat, Fat Rose Marie, by Lisa Passen, takes on the same subject matter--a little girl is teased for being fat--and handles it so much better. Rose Marie is befriended by another child who's the butt of teasing, because she has red hair and freckles, and together they empower each other and teach the other children to look beyond the surface to the person within. Rose Marie is never shown shoveling in food, as Nikky is; nor is she emotionally dysfunctional. She's just fat.

Lisa Passen's book was published nearly 18 years ago, proving once more that we're in a kind of Dark Ages when it comes to body image and weight. I can only hope we'll emerge sooner rather than later into our Renaissance.