by J. Andrew Mills and Rebecca Osborn

Small Book Fills Big Needs for Children

At very young ages, today’s children become aware that our culture has standards regarding body size, shape, and color. By the time they are in the third grade, many children are already developing prejudices about weight and shape.  Children with "differences" are routinely subjected to teasing, social rejection, and even harassment.  This can lead to future low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, unnecessary dieting, and eating disorders.

Shapesville is the first children’s picture book designed to promote body acceptance and prevent future eating disorders. Under the guidance of internationally-respected experts on eating disorders prevention, two college seniors, Andy Mills and Becky Osborn, wrote Shapesville after intensively researching the topic of children's body image.

“Before Shapesville, there was nothing available that parents and teachers could use to help reduce the negative outcomes that teasing and prejudices have on kids’ self-esteem and self-image, “ said Michael Levine, Ph.D., a coauthor of the clinical textbook, Preventing Eating Disorders. “The needs met by this book are unique.”

Mills and Osborn were mentored by Levine and Linda Smolak, Ph.D. at Kenyon College in Gambier, OH, where they began Shapesville as an independent study project.  They focused on themes of diversity, tolerance, and positive body image. Levine notes, “Shapesville is interesting, colorful, and is embedded with multi-faceted messages. The power of the book is in its basis for thoughtful discussions.”

Smolak, who co-authored Body Image, Eating Disorders, and Obesity in Youth, liked that the authors were concentrating on such young children. “A lot of kids at an early age inadvertently hear comments about their bodies as well as the bodies of others.  Shapesville raises awareness about these issues and provides a ‘safe’ venue for parents, who do not have to talk about ‘fat’ or ‘skinny.’ Instead, they can address shape, size, and color, which are much lighter concepts and easier for children to understand.”

Mills points to the value of parents using Shapesville to help their children explore their feelings, “Ideally, children should also have a forum at home where their voice is respected and encouraged with regards to self-esteem and body image.” The note to educators and parents in the back of the book explains how to effectively talk about Shapesville's themes with kids.

The authors took early drafts into first and second grade classrooms, where it received enthusiastic praise from administrators, teachers, and especially young students. After reading the book and showing its pictures, they posed questions from the back of the book. Osborn recalls that the teasing questions received the most attention from kids, who shared their own experiences of being ridiculed for everything from being big to wearing glasses. “I was amazed that the kids felt so comfortable talking about these subjects with a stranger, but I think it speaks well to the impact Shapesville might have on a classroom with an adult they know and trust."

Although editors at Gürze Books had reviewed many children’s manuscripts over the years, it was not easy to find a good project. “We’ve long recognized a need for a title to help kids appreciate and accept their natural bodies,” said Leigh Cohn, Publisher of Gürze Books. “Shapesville is the first manuscript that has just the right language and emphasis to effectively help prevent poor body image and its related problems.”

This small book fills a large need.