A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book, which garnered media attention for helping girls lose body mass, features an overweight girl who's ostracized at school. A one-dimensional beautiful girl is mean and insults other girls. A formerly overweight camp counselor shares tips for making healthy choices. There's a mild romantic subplot.
What's the story?
In this sixth book in the BSG series, five best friends -- Charlotte, Isabel, Maeve, Avery, and Katani -- belong to a club called the Beacon Street Girls. They're challenged to survive the outdoors when their seventh-grade class goes to a four-day camp in New Hampshire. The girls feel sorry for another classmate, Chelsea Briggs, who's overweight and struggles to complete some of the camp's fitness activities. With the help of a formerly overweight camp counselor, Chelsea learns to stand up to bullies and find ways to feel good about herself.
Is it any good?
This is a Message Book in which lessons trump writing and plot. Readers must overcome clunky dialog, clichhs, and didactic passages to focus on the girls' friendships. Each girl has an "issue": Charlotte is raised by a single dad, Avery is adopted, Maeve's parents are divorced, Isabel's mother has multiple sclerosis, and Katani's sister is autistic. In this book, though, the focus is on overweight Chelsea, who learns to stand up for herself and only eat one cookie when, conveniently, a camp counselor who used to be overweight mentors her with lessons about exercise and eating out of boredom. The book rightly eschews quick-fixes and diets (Jody, the counselor, tells Chelsea it took her two years to lose weight), focusing on the idea of "getting healthy" rather than losing weight. "I would just respect my body and eat healthy and exercise," Jody tells Chelsea. For the rest of the girls, the lesson is that "fat people are people, too" -- Chelsea, it turns out, takes great pictures and saves the day when her hiking group gets lost.
While the weight-related messages try to stay positive, the book goes a bit overboard with its cardboard villain and Chelsea's social isolation. As one example of how Chelsea is always embarrassed by her weight, her mom makes her buy a coat from the boys' department because none of the girl-size coats fit her. Wouldn't it make more sense to look in the women's section? Girls who are on the heavy side but still have outgoing personalities may have a hard time identifying with Chelsea (and her subsequent life lessons).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about ways they could exercise together or eat more healthfully. Parents can discuss scientific research and how it's represented in the media. For example, the New York Times (Oct. 13, 2008) and other media outlets covered a Duke University study featuring this book. The study involved fewer than 100 girls, all already enrolled in a weight-loss program at the university. One group of 31 girls read Lake Rescue; another group read Charlotte in Paris. A smaller group of 14 girls didn't read anything. After six months, researchers found that the girls who read a book posted a larger drop in their body mass index. What do you think of this study? Do you think there's enough evidence to support the connection between the book and weight loss? Does any media you watch, read, or listen to sway your behavior in a positive way?