A fat girl named Abigail copes with a negative body image.
Unfortunately, this book’s good intentions miss the mark. The very title, juxtaposed with jacket art depicting a heavyset white girl clad in a bathing suit and goggles, risks reinforcing the fat-shaming it attempts to undo. As the book opens, Abigail walks, head down, toward a group of jeering, thin, white children. “Abigail always tried to be last in line, because she knew that when she dived in, she would make an enormous wave, and everyone would shout, 'ABIGAIL IS A WHALE!’ ”—and that’s exactly what happens. Also poolside is the swimming teacher, a white man, who is fat, too. Although he does nothing to stop or correct the children’s bullying of Abigail, he talks with her afterward, praising her swimming and telling her, “if you want to feel light, think light.” She decides to practice this mind-over-matter advice in other ways (thinking “giant” to feel big and powerful on her walk home and “hedgehog” to cozily burrow into bed for a good night’s sleep), building up to her next dive into the pool. Then she thinks “rocket and enter[s] the water without a splash.” This success suddenly makes the others cheer her on, and she even reclaims the term “whale” in order to summon the bravery to jump from the highest diving board.
While Abigail’s internal process feels believable, there is no condemnation of the bullying, and the resolution with the other children feels forced. (Picture book. 6-8)