Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Big Blue, by Vanita Oelschlager (illustrated by Kristin Blackwood)

I originally published a review of this book on my blog, Cozy Little Book Journal, and received a lot of angry comments about it because of how much I hated this book, but I stand by it, even if my original review was a lot more flippant than this one. (If you'd like to see the original review, scroll down after the jump.)

I really disliked this book. There are a lot of different ways to put a message into a book for kids, but I think any author who does that also needs to do two things: 1. Make sure the story still works and the book is actually good, and 2. Make sure that the message is actually one worth relaying. I think this book fails in both cases.
First of all, the story about the bird who eats so much that he's too fat to fly with the other birds for the winter is troubling. If that actually happened, the bird would die. But in this book he just learns to stop eating. That's the solution. THAT'S NOT A SOLUTION! It doesn't show him being more active, or eating better foods, it just says he stops eating. So when the other birds return he's skinny and happy.

Second, this is a terrible message. I get that the author is trying to tell kids that if they eat too much they'll be fat and therefore their lives will be awful but, again, that's a TERRIBLE message. The issue with this bird seems to be ONLY his size, not his actual health or skills or personality. The author perpetuates the myth that size alone is an indicator of health, which it absolutely is not. Some children, like adults, are going to be bigger than others based on genetics and body type, even more so for kids because they grow at different rates.

Driving home the point that eating a lot and being bigger than others is something you should be desperately ashamed of is not only irresponsible and inaccurate, I believe it's quite damaging to children. I don't mean that children shouldn't be taught about healthy choices, but size alone is NOT an indicator of health and fat shaming like this is just encouraging children to develop body image issues at a younger age.

Magda's Take:
None. I would never read this book to my daughter.

Original Review:
Like her previous book, Out of the Blue, Vanita Oelschlager’s Big Blue is beautifully illustrated and poorly written. Considering both are published by VanitaBooks I’m guessing the author just started her own publishing house so she could write books about her favourite colour. It’s just a bonus that her name sounds so much like “vanity.” This book is particularly awful, using hysteria over childhood obesity and a weak story about an overweight bird to further extend fat shaming to preschoolers. The fat bird in question, Big Blue, is described as lazy for eating too much and napping instead of building nests with the other birds until he’s eventually too big to fly south or even fit into his nest. After being left behind one winter he learns his lesson and reforms his ways by never eating or sleeping again. Now he’s popular, skinny and happy! The end. Oh, also he has an addiction to methamphetamines. That last part isn’t in the book but it’s implied.

The best thing I can say about this book is that there’s still time for illustrator Kristin Blackwood to take her tremendous talents to another author. Soon, hopefully.

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

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