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beware of children’s books…

Posted by on Mar 10, 2011 in Blog Posts | 12 comments

I didn’t read this particular gem pictured (I can only imagine…) but I did read “Berenstain bears Go Out to Eat.” I don’t even know where we got it, I think a party favor. Some favor…

“I’ll have a hamburger and french fries,” said brother
“Me too,” said Sister
“Just a minute, ” said Mama. “The hamburger is okay, but not the fries. You both need some healthy vegetables. Two side orders of broccoli, please.”
“Broccoli?” said the cubs in disappointment.
“Remember?” warned Mama, “this is my evening out.”
“Yes Mama.” the cubs said…

Before long, almost everything was gone, except for the broccoli.
“I want to see every bit of that delicious broccoli eaten,” said Mama, “It’s chock-full of vitamins!”
“Why do vitamins have to taste bad?” Brother grumbles…
“If you eat your broccoli, you get dessert,” said Papa…

What in those two pages did parents and kids learn?

  • •bribe kids with dessert to eat (not enjoy, the kids “gulped them down in one bite”) veggies
  • • give kids the idea broccoli and healthy things taste bad
  • • eat food to please parents
  • • guilt kids around food (mama’s special night!)
  • • fries are bad (but they taste so good!)
    (I’m not saying eating out is a free-for all, please see the link for a video I did on DOR when eating out…)
  • • don’t stop when you are full. Eat what and how much you are told. even if you’re full you’ll eat your dessert because, darn it, you earned it! (bad)
-Or the book I saw that the kids had read in church about the goat who liked to try all foods…
-Or this one, distributed at a WIC clinic to clients, brought to my attention by a reader.

Her comments, and more from an ED forum:

Here’s the title page:

Look At Me!

Weight Control

Serve Low-Fat Foods
Exercise Every Day
Eat Fresh Foods
Serve Small Portions
Eat a Variety of Foods

“Too much food on my plate makes me gain too much weight.”

The accompanying picture was the little rabbit with a thought bubble picturing himself as an overweight little rabbit.  Great reading material for 4 year olds (insert sarcasm).  And we wonder why EDs are developing at younger ages.  Please.

Another page . . . “Eating food like broccoli give me lots of energy.”

Final page . . . “Look at me.  I like what  see!”  Meaning?  You can only like what you see if you’re thin and fit?????”

Check out this post about another book, distributed by WIC as well,  the Two-Bite Club and Ellyn Satter’s take.

I find this to be disturbing on many levels. First off, most of the messages are control model, restriction, negative-energy based. “Good” and “bad” foods are spelled-out, and drilled into kids (remember kids as young as 4 report feeling guilt and shame when eating forbidden foods. Think of poor Mama Bear!) Berenstain bears and books handed out by WIC offices (as were the Two Bite Club and the Bunny books) are seen as trusted resources and are teaching parents counterproductive feeding practices. So these books do educate, parents and kids and further interferes with a healthy feeding relationship. Yuck. (Check out what our schools are adding to this toxic mix with some standard school nutrition messages.)

Have you found childrens’ books with similar messages? Where did you get/see them? Did you complain? (I complained both at M’s school and church about books. They probably think I’m crazy to object to a book that urges kids to eat fruits and veggies…) Complain. Ask them not to have those books for kids. Does anyone know books that deal with food in a non-judgmental way? (It’s part of why I like Ingredient magazine.) Anyone out there write books or illustrate children’s books? Want to team up to write children’s books that are about being healthy, not thin, are about enjoying all foods, and incorporate best practice feeding?

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  1. Dana

    I like “Best Friends for Frances” and “Bread and Jam for Frances.” Frances and her friend Albert have the most amazing school lunches and picnics, complete with salt and pepper shakers for their boiled eggs and tablecloths for their desks. Frances’ parents do a pretty good job with Frances’ bread and jam jag in “Bread and Jam,” offering bread and jam to her without comment until she realizes that she’s tired of them (even singing a little song about it) and wants what the rest of the family is having. As long as the parent reading these books isn’t prompted to preach food variety to their kids, I think they should go into the “positives” list.

  2. sandrad

    Quentin Blake’s All Join In – A riotous family work party wraps up with a giant chocolate banana cake. The cake cracks me up every time – big banana shapes poking out all over.

    Poppleton is so lovely isn’t he?

  3. Emgee

    Outside the EMH classroom in my school I saw pictures the kids had made, titled, “Healthy/Not Healthy.” For example, on the healthy side was a cut-out magazine photo of broccoli, on the unhealthy side was a cut-out magazine photo of strawberry shortcake. Really?? Strawberry shortcake?? I wanted to scream and rip the pictures down. Their teacher is a woman who is fat like me. So–the game must be, Disordered Eating! Tag, you’re it!

    • katja

      crazy-making, for sure. It’s so pervasive and sad and harmful for these kids. Think of all the work we will have to put in to undo these notions in this generation of fat-phobic, food phobic kids. I think all the “health” talk and obesity hysteria is leading to more bullying too. I talked to a school nurse last night who says bullying around weight is out of control in her middle school, and it’s the boys… No wonder they are catching up with eating disorders…

  4. Twistie

    Ugh! The Bearenstain Bears are just full to the overflow with every annoying message that reinforces the worst bits of the status quo. I’m glad they weren’t around when I was young enough to be the target audience. Then again, I feel sure my parents wouldn’t have given them to me, especially the ‘junk food’ one!

    After all, out of three kids two of us were more than happy to eat broccoli from about the first time we had it and the third would manage the stems as long as nobody asked him to eat the florets. We all loved carrots, too. And my mother would have held a woman who used that kind of manipulation to get her children to eat (do it for my special day, forsooth!) in a combination of pity and contempt… much like the one that book raises in me.

    BTW, Katja, I saw something fabulous today. Sarah Kate at The Kitch’n wrote a lovely piece on teaching children to eat well that, well, just about could have been written by you. Here’s the link:

    Oh, and while there are a few commenters who complain that you can’t allow a child to eat that way or make a virtue out of not allowing them to leave the table until they eat everything, most of the responses have been really great. In fact, I brought up Ellyn Satter and the Division of Responsibility and at least two other people have chimed in to support the suggestion! Here’s hoping a couple people check out the books.

    • katja

      seems like the ones when we were young weren’t so heavy-handed. This new generation of BB seems like “parenting” books in disguise. Certainly not fun or engaging for kids. This idea of “info-tainment,” and every PBS kids’ show break with it’s “healthy” whole wheat pizza crust and “just a little” cheese… Blech. Let kids be kids.
      I liked the post in Kitch’n. Like how there is an acknowledgment of temperament, and how many readers blossomed from picky eaters to adventurous ones later. This panic that if your kid isn’t eating calamari by preschool and they’re doomed doesn’t help.

  5. Lisa

    Oh. My. I went to a live-actor Bearnstein Bears performance of the book ‘Too Much Junk Food” and we almost walked out. Had I been there with just my daughter I would have, but we were with friends and had plans for after. It was HORRIBLE, exactly as you described above. Hiding foods, good/bad food splits, Mama Bear acknowledging that carrots don’t taste that good but they are “healthy”, on and on. Luckily most of it sailed over my daughter’s head as she was very busy goofing around with her friends.

    My sister is a children’s book author and she wrote a great book about attuned eating called “Your Tummy’s Talking”. I would really like to send you a copy Katja. Can you send me your mailing address at my email? Thanks!

  6. Elizabeth

    Katya, I made this comment on another post a couple of weeks ago, but I’m going to copy it over here (with a couple of small edits) because it fits even better here, even though it’s more about body image than about food per se.

    We just got back from vacation, and I read approximately 10,000 books to my 2.5-year-old toddler (or at least it felt like that many). But I wanted to share a good story (or at least pretty good) about one of them, Poppleton in Fall.

    There is a whole series of these, about Poppleton, who is a pig, and the various other animals in his neighborhood, especially his best friend and next-door neighbor, Cherry Sue the llama. One of the three chapters in this one deals with Poppleton going to the coat store to buy a new winter coat. The owner (a ferret) measures him, and tells him that he has nothing to fit him – Poppleton is too big. Poppleton goes home, looks in the mirror, and gets depressed. Cherry Sue comes over to ask him what’s wrong, and gets mad at him for being upset. “Zacko’s a ferret! Did you tell him that he was too small? No? That’s because you have good manners! You are a big pig, Poppleton – be proud!” Then she gives him the Big and Tall Pigs catalog and he gets a coat that fits. He parades it by Zacko’s store, then decides he feels sorry for him for being so small, so he goes in and buys a scarf. 🙂

    On the one hand, I guess this does bring up the idea size discrimination in an age group that might not have seen it yet. On the other hand, I feel like the overall message is that we should be proud of the bodies we have, and not try to be something we’re not – and I really couldn’t ask for a better body-image message.

    • katja

      I’m not sure it’s going to intriduce the idea of discrimination if handled well. Kids that age are aware of differences, and it sounds like a nice way of thinking about those differences. I had already added Poppleton to the list! Keep em coming!

  7. Ines

    Oh this is a favorite topic of mine, Katja. Thank you for posting about it. I agree with you completely (warning Mama Bear from BB is very controlling myself I prefer Mama Bear from Little Bear the story of Elise Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak…this other Mama Bear is so sweet and considerate). My two favorite children stories about eating are ‘Cookies’ (in Frog and Toad Together book by Arnold Lobel) and Let’s eat by Ana Zamorano (illustrated by a favorite of mine Julie Vivas). In the Cookies story Toad makes cookies and brings them to his friend Frog. Frog has the dieting message well learned and after eating a couple of cookies decides he is going to put them away. He tries different places but Toad states he can still find them. Frog then decides to just give them to the birds. The story ends with Toad going back home to bake a cake. In Let’s eat a family gets together to eat. Different days of the week are depicted with delicious meals. Every day a different family member cannot make it to the table for different reasons but the meal still goes on until at the end the mother is the one not coming to the table because…. she is having a baby. I love the this story, which is also available in Spanish. It is so positive sharing the message about eating. And, the illustrations are gorgeous.

    • katja

      thanks! I am starting a list and will check them all out. I’ll add them to my resources section and maybe buy copies for church 🙂