This is the second section of a two-part post recommending children’s books that have something to offer in terms of fat politics. Section one is picture books; section two is middle grade and young adult books. I wish the list were longer, but these are, sadly, all the fatpol-friendly children’s books I have found so far. (I’m only one person, of course, so there may well be more out there that I don’t know about. Please holler if you know any!) Because fatpol-friendly children’s books are so rare, I’m taking off my regular book-reviewer hat and including some books that are artistically/literarily weaker than I would normally recommend. (Though you’ll probably be able to tell which ones I consider highest quality.)
Parameters: I focused on main characters rather than secondary characters. The characters’ levels of fatness range from slightly fat to very fat — although the status quo narrative definition of “very fat” is problematic, as has been discussed here before. Because defining levels of fatness is so problematic, I decided not to distinguish between levels of fatness in my capsule reviews. I’m frustrated and apologetic not to have found many “supersize” characters, nor many queer characters or characters of color. Although I’m not including any books that are too heinously offensive along general progressive lines, some of these books do include some sexism and racism at times, because they exist in the World, and it’s hard for things that exist in the World to avoid sexism and racism completely.
Please note: while some of these books warrant an unreserved fatpol-friendly rating, many require caveats. The list was tragically short without the mixed-message books, and I wanted y’all to be able to make your own choices. Please don’t take an inclusion on this list to mean that a book is 100% fatpol-friendly and doesn’t warrant a critical eye.
DAY TWO: CHAPTER BOOKS.
Middle grade books:
THE FETCH OF MARDY WATT, by Charles Butler. The single fantasy book on this list! Mardy is fat and hates it. A dark and slightly surreal adventure into a noxious parallel realm takes her energy and almost her soul until the evil force is conquered by an unorthodox (but never twee) group of friends. Intelligent book. On the not-quite-FA side, Mardy never stops hating being fat; but on the plus side, there’s nary a hint of her dieting or trying to lose weight, and her fatness is no hindrance to her success in the plot arc. Another nice quality is that while Mardy herself dislikes her own fatness, the narrative voice doesn’t mind it at all.
RODZINA, by Karen Cushman. Set in 1881 (but written in the 21st century), this solid and tender historical novel features a young girl who happens to be fat. The fatness has no symbolism and no baggage. Rodzina and other orphans ride an orphan train across the country seeking new families. Poverty and sadness, but much strength as well.
THE MISFITS, by James Howe. Four seventh graders try to change the atmosphere of their school by running a political campaign to ban name-calling. Each of the four is an outsider in some way: too tall, too fat, too odd, or just plain gay. Fatpolwise, this book is pretty good. A fat boy narrates in first person, and over the plot arc, he gains a lot of confidence without losing any weight. The girl he likes likes him back even while he’s fat. A few randomly-placed comments undermine the positive fatpol message, but the protagonist doesn’t diet in the course of the book. Caveat: strange, sketchy narrative messages about gender and race.
Young adult books:
THIS BOOK ISN’T FAT, IT’S FABULOUS, by Nina Beck. A fat, rich teen with no desire to lose weight is sent to fat camp by her father and stepmother. Initially spoiled, she becomes likeable almost immediately. Her growth arc is about emotional openness; one major theme is lying versus telling the truth. No weight loss, no negativity associated with fatness, just a fresh and hilarious new voice. I’d give this to fat readers without a single caveat (except maybe the title, which implies that fatness and fabulousness are at odds; luckily, the rest of the text doesn’t think so).
FAT KID RULES THE WORLD, by K.L. Going. A fat teenage boy, emotionally distant from his family, makes friends with a hyper homeless boy who’s on drugs but is a brilliant punk rock musician. I’m including this book because as the protagonist learns to drum, bonds with his family, and makes his first friend, he never loses weight. There’s no implication that he’ll lose weight, or try to, at any point. Caveat: Going objectifies this protagonist’s fat body to an extreme degree. The narration is first-person, but the fat boy is always the FAT boy, never just a plain old human being. Even at the end, when he’s a fuller human being to himself and his family, his body and gait are always, always marked as fat: he lumbers, he waddles, etc. This descriptive repetition, though stylistic, undermines the fatpol-friendliness of the non-weight-loss plot arc.
THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS, by Carolyn Mackler. I struggled over whether to include this one. It’s 98% wonderful, with a fat teenage protagonist who morphs from an insecure girl who idealizes her problematic family and eats for comfort into a confident, kickboxing website-founder with an eyebrow ring. Caveats: two irksome sentences. One says that the protagonist can “see” her stomach and arms tightening up (from exercising). The fact that she sees it rather than feeling it is rather anti-HAES and implies loss of fat as well as growth of muscle. The second cringeworthy sentence is a comment that her Fat Pants are “feeling a little loose.” These sentences render this book one of the many that equate emotional growth with weight loss. However, they seem unusually brief and unessentialized here; consider using those two sentences as discussion points.
FAT HOOCHIE PROM QUEEN, by Nico Medina. A fat and happy Puerto Rican teen girl, who never minds being fat and is clearly attractive, gets embroiled in a prom queen competition with an old nemesis. There’s girl-on-girl bitchiness and some unsettling classism; however, there’s also a fabulous straight fat girl cheerfully surrounded by queerness. This is (frustratingly) the only book on this list with a protagonist who’s a POC. I heartily recommend this one.
MYRTLE OF WILLENDORF, by Rebecca O’Connell. Myrtle is a college student, though flashbacks show earlier periods of her life. She’s fat and she’s an artist. She’s also a binge-eater, and she lives with a thin and health-snobby roommate. Major themes include “goddess” mythology and menstruation. Caveats: boys are never attracted to Myrtle (though she wishes they were), and her bingeing is certainly a fat stereotype. However, I’m including this book because, despite the fact that it’s a stereotype, some fat people do binge, and O’Connell’s narrative voice is respectful. Also, although the bingeing and lack of boys shows no sign of changing – even at the end, when Myrtle finds public success as an artist – there’s also no implication that Myrtle will lose weight as part of her growth arc. Consider this a BED book as much as a fatness book.
BIG FAT MANIFESTO, by Susan Vaught. Fat power messages overflow – and mix with a few old stereotypes too. This attempt at a direct fatpol novel is romantic, passionate, emotional, and political. Jamie’s a high school senior writing a column called Fat Girl Manifesto for her school newspaper. She’s very active and she has a (hot and fat) boyfriend – who decides to get WLS. Vaught’s groundbreaking messages include assertions that fat people are attractive and that WLS is the only way for a fat person to become thin because dieting doesn’t work. However, Vaught includes so very many messages about fatness that they reach chaos point. You’ll find some offensive old anti-fat chestnuts in this warm and energetic page-turner, but you’ll also find lots of cheer-worthy fat acceptance messages. A great place to start, for young adults who have never encountered fatpol before.