Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative to educate American youth about healthy lifestyle choices has cast a spotlight on the increase in childhood obesity, a subject also addressed by former New York City mayor Ed Koch in a fall picture book. Written with his sister, Pat Koch Thaler, and illustrated by Jonathan Hoefer, Eddie Shapes Up is due from Zagat in September. Centering on an overweight boy who changes his unhealthy eating and exercise regimens, the story is based on the three-term mayor’s childhood experiences (as were his two previous collaborations with Thaler, Eddie: Harold’s Little Brother and Eddie’s Little Sister Makes a Splash). Former president Bill Clinton contributed an introduction to the book.
“I think the single most important issue being discussed today about children is the obesity issue, and obviously the First Lady has made it a priority,” Koch says, speaking of his inspiration for writing the book. “I was a fat kid, and my sister Pat was also, so we both know what it means and how it limits your social activities and can have a really terrible impact on how you view yourself. Pat and I decided some time ago that we would address that issue in a picture book, so that’s how Eddie Shapes Up came to be.”
Zagat’s founder and publisher, Tim Zagat, has known Koch for many years, and learned about Eddie Shapes Up when he contacted him to discuss another book project. “I was thinking of publishing a children’s book series about different professions—about a policeman, a fireman, and a mayor, for instance—and I called Ed to ask him if he’d be interested in writing a book called Mr. Mayor,” Zagat explains. “He then told me that he’d written a new book with his sister and offered to send me the manuscript.”
Koch did, and Zagat signed it up. “I knew immediately I wanted to publish it. I loved the story, and I thought it was really perfect for what Zagat does,” he says. “Our books are always telling people to eat smart and live smart in the adult world. And if people live smart and eat smart as children, they’ll be happier later. The book fits in with my thinking and sends the same message that Mrs. Obama is sending.”
Zagat says that his company publishes children’s books selectively and will continue to do so. A notable Zagat children’s title on its backlist is Miss Lea’s Bible Stories by Rosemary Lea. “The author was a teacher at St. Bernard’s School in New York, which our children attended,” he says. “She made Bible stories sound like Kipling had written them, and kids loved the book. It was a big success, and sold over 200,000 copies.”
Koch hopes that Eddie Shapes Up will send a wake-up call to young readers. “Children are very impressionable, and as parents or family members you want to make their lives comfortable, help them progress to the highest stages they can, and have them avoid as much psychic pain as possible, since other children can be very mean,” he remarks. “We hope the book helps them understand that while you can gratify your tastes for a fraction of time by eating a cookie, you can improve your life in the future by eating an apple instead. This is what we want readers to take away.”
Eddie Shapes Up by Ed Koch and Pat Koch Thaler. Zagat, $16.95 Sept. ISBN 978-1-60478-378-0