Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fatso Jean, the Ice Cream Queen (1990) by Maryann Macdonald

There were plenty of children's book in the 50s and 60s designed to make fat kids feel bad about themselves. Here is a later such book. The author actually refers to Jean as "Fatso Jean," the name the nine year old earned in the ice cream truck line one day. A boy named Frankie makes up a song about how she loves ice cream and would burst a seam if she breathed.
Jean doesn't wear cute clothes like the skinny kids because all the clothes in the "Largette Shop" are ugly and navy blue. Her family tries to intervene and suggest activities, but Fatso Jean is lazy and would rather lie around waiting on the ice cream man.
Because of the other kids' bullying, Jean decides to go on a crash diet. Her eventual success with this approach is hindered by her low self-esteem, in this book called her 'Inside Voice.' Jean finally breaks her fast and gains back the weight.
An elderly neighbor gives Jean a huge pink bike that belonged to his daughter in the 50's. Jean doesn't ride very well, so she practices in a vacant lot with her mother. She then asks Mr. Greenbaum if she can paint the bike white so it won't be so embarrassing to ride in front of the other kids. Enter the Mean Team - Frankie, Elliott and Crystal. After calling her fat and laughing at her bike, they invite her along to Flagpole Hill, where the more advanced riders practice tricks. Of course, Jean crashes and wrecks her bike.
Jean's next endeavor is to practice diving until she's as good as Crystal. This doesn't work out either. She does find out that a mentally challenged boy she knows needs money to make it to the Special Olympics. Jean makes a brief try at baseball, but the Mean Team shows up again with another one of their rhythmical insults.
This turns Jean to ice cream again. While in the grocery store buying supplies, she runs in to Jimmy, the boy in need of funds for the Special Olympics.
Jean perfects her ice cream recipes, but her parents finally tell her she has to stop. Jean takes the remaining ice cream over to Mr. Greenbaum's and comes up with a plan...make the ice cream over at his house and sell it with the profits going toward Jean's tuition at Kamp Klutzo, a fat camp she reads about in the newspaper.
Jean uses the name the kids used to taunt her with, "Fatso Jean the Ice Cream Queen," as her business name, and begins selling the ice cream without her parents' knowledge. While out selling one day, she discovers Jimmy, who has a new job cleaning up the park, has been giving Frankie money in exchange for help with his batting. Jean tries to defend Jimmy because he needs the money for the Special Olympics, but the author makes it look like Jean is in the wrong for trying to keep Jimmy from being taken advantage of and that he is giving his money away out of pride.
Jean decides to try to double her sales to cover the cost for Jimmy's needs and her Kamp Klutzo deposit. I find it a little unrealistic that several businesses would allow a nine year old to cater their events, but that's what happens. Jean explains to her parents that she and Mr. Greenbaum are conducting "secret experiments" together which they take to mean she has a new healthy hobby. Then, just as things are going well, Jean and her ice cream wagon are hit by the Mean Team on their bikes while trying to save them from being hit by the ice cream truck.
Jean lands in the hospital with a broken arm, dashing all dreams of Kamp Klutzo. The Mean Team come to visit and apologize for hitting her. "Maybe the Mean Team wasn't that mean after all. Crystal and Elliott, anyway. Maybe she had never given them much of a chance." Uh, yes they are. They bullied her consistently throughout the book. Crystal offers to help make ice cream and Elliot says he'll make the deliveries. Jean says he'll have to paint "Fatso Jean" on his bike. "But you're not really that fat anymore," Elliott objects. "It was true. Her legs didn't look like tree trunks anymore. Her stomach didn't stick out like a watermelon." Now that Jean isn't fat anymore, it's okay for the Mean Team to be nice to her. Everyone is surprised that Jean was working to help Jimmy. Because she was fat, they all assumed she was greedy (which she was really supposed to be in the beginning of the I'm not sure. Having an emotional eating problem isn't the same as being selfish). Frankie invites Jean to be on his baseball team.
While it's nice to see a story about a child losing weight by playing (instead of being put on an exercise regime), there are still so many things wrong with this book. As a kid, I remember thinking how terrible and awesome the Mean Team were and how lucky Jean was to get into their good graces at the end. I would've had Jean make some new friends and gain some confidence in herself as a person as she was losing weight. 

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