Author says story about teen on a diet was misunderstood - Maui News

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WAILUKU - Paul Kramer has self-published a small library of books for children, but none have received the amount of worldwide attention as his latest project.

To Kramer, that's not entirely a good thing.

The Paia resident's most recent rhyming picture book, "Maggie Goes on a Diet," has set off a controversy over its story of a teenage girl and her efforts to lose weight. The firestorm has led to interviews with The Los Angeles Times, The New York Daily News, The Chicago Sun and the Boston Globe, as well as appearances on CNN, Good Morning America, the Today Show and Fox News Live.

"It's been a mixed bag," Kramer said of the exposure. "It's kinda sad so many people put me down for what they thought was the message - and that's not the message. On the other hand, it's opened a huge arena for me."

With the self-published title not available for sale until Oct. 16, Kramer said the dustup is literally a case of critics judging his book by its cover.

"It is not a diet book. Let me repeat this: It is not a diet book," he said in a recent interview with The Maui News.

Critics, including physicians and nutrition experts, have criticized the book for suggesting that being thin is a key to social acceptance and popularity. They also question why a book nominally about teens would be written in a format usually sold as a read-aloud for 4- to 6-year-olds.

Some supporters have said the book is appropriate in an era when childhood obesity is considered an epidemic.

Kramer said the book is actually aimed at children between the ages of 6 and 12, and a listing that advertised it for children aged 4 to 8 was mistaken.

He said many people criticizing the book haven't even read it yet, while some journalists provided with review copies "sensationalized" the story.

"I challenge everybody to read the book and judge the interior and then make the determination if it is a positive book or a negative book," Kramer said.

Shortly after the book's title, cover art and synopsis were listed on about three or four weeks ago, Kramer said it was the blogosphere that started all the hubbub. Then the mainstream media picked up the story.

"A lot of the newspaper articles were cruel without even reading the book," said Kramer. "The Associated Press gave me a fair shake about a week ago, though, and after that, I think the tide changed. The comments were more positive."

Still, Kramer also said he's received at least a thousand personal emails, most of them negative.

He added that hundreds or thousands of bloggers have "vented" on him, often with nasty comments, like suggesting that Maggie's parents are fat, too.

Kramer is a former furniture maker, credit card consultant and partner in his wife's travel business. He is not a formally trained writer, but said he is a published poet.

Kramer said he got the inspiration to write self-help books for kids after a boy enjoyed one of his poems and asked him if he'd tackle the issue of bullying.

"I did," he said. "And then I looked for other issues. And I struggled with weight my whole life, and I am taking Maggie's advice. I am watching what I eat and exercising daily, and I feel wonderful about myself."

To date, Kramer said his previous self-published books sold "modestly to poorly." But all the controversy has bumped up pre-sales for "Maggie." While he would not disclose how many books he has already sold, he noted one bookseller purchased 1,000 copies of the story.

Kramer said he has not been approached by any publishing houses, and that he is happy self-publishing, but hopes to earn enough so that he can hire a staff and focus more on his writing.

While he may have been criticized by adults, Kramer said he believes his intended audience would rate the book "an 8 or 9 out of 10."

"The main message of 'Maggie' is to have all children realize there is an answer if they are obese, if they are ready, and that answer is to change their eating habits and start an exercise program," Kramer said. "Know that Maggie did it, and you can too."

While some have criticized his choice of a female protagonist for the story, saying it contributes to harmful messages aimed at girls about body image and dieting, Kramer said he only chose a girl for his main character because his last story focused on a boy.

In the end, he said he hopes the controversy helps his book reach more readers and helps more children become happy and healthy.

"I believe I've tapped into a big niche here, and I also think I touched a nerve with a lot of parents," Kramer said. "But I challenge anyone who reads the book, and if they still feel it's harmful, I will gladly pay them back."

* Chris Hamilton can be reached at

11 Sep, 2011

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