Body-Inclusive KidLit

My daughter, husband, and I recently spent a relaxing morning exploring the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. At one point we stepped inside a large transparent box that distorted our reflections and my daughter, who was on the other side of the partition that divided the space in half, said, “Mom, I’m not trying to be mean, but you look really fat.” I smiled and reminded her that being fat wasn’t a bad thing, but simply a description, like tall and short and thin, none of which are negative or positive.

This wasn’t the first time she’d heard this message from me, and it certainly won’t be the last. I just wish I didn’t feel like one of the only people in her life touting this mindset. Pushing back against the constant anti-fat messaging from TV, movies, books, friends, and family members is exhausting, and I worry that my brave, kind, smart, funny six-year-old will eventually fall victim to the idea that her body defines her worth.

This is why I go out of my way to track down picture books to read with her that include all kinds of people in the illustrations and celebrate different types of bodies. Fortunately, that seems to be getting easier, although the publishing industry still has a lot of work to do around body inclusivity. I also appreciate how many middle grade and young adult books have been published in the last few years that feature plump protagonists, although it would be wonderful to see a greater variety of narratives, ones that don’t center what it’s like to be a fat kid in America, but present that as one facet of their life.

Over on the Guide/Reviews Database are three new recommended booklists for primary, intermediate, and older readers that feature curvy characters. In addition to these titles, I’d recommend a few recent ones: I Love My Body Because by Shelly Anand and Nomi Ellenson, illustrated by Erika Rodriguez Medina; Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin, illustrated by Ebony Glenn; Beautifully Me by Nabela Noor, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali; and Punky Aloha by Shar Tuiasoa. See also author/illustrator Phoebe Wahl’s article from earlier this year, “Want More Body Positive Kid’s Books? Start Doing Better by Fat Characters, says Children’s Book Illustrator.” Proudly fat librarian/author Angie Manfredi is worth following on Twitter, and she has a section on her blog about fat acceptance and the portrayal of fat people in literature. And author Lisa Fipps has links on her website to several resources around the way fat bodies are portrayed in children’s literature. Feel free to share in the comments below any additional body-inclusive titles you’d recommend.

Sarah Threlkeld

Sarah Threlkeld is an editorial intern for The Horn Book, Inc., studying towards an MA in children’s literature and an MFA in writing for children at Simmons University. 

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