Meet Maji and Mongo, two dogs of the same breed who are very different indeed.
Mongo, you see, is a couch potato. Maji, on the other hand, is like a tornado (read: physically active).
Maji and Mongo are the heroes of the new children’s book, How Maji Gets Mongo Off the Couch!, which aims to teach young children the importance of physical activity and a healthy diet. Published earlier this year, the book will be used in Cincinnati elementary schools and at Xavier University as part of reading education (and ongoing efforts to teach kids about good health).
The book is the brainchild of clinical psychologist Dr. J. Renae Norton, who tells the Inside Track she wrote the book after seeing hundreds of her patients struggle with food issues ranging from obesity to anorexia for the past 30 years. Part of the problem, Norton found, is that people just don’t realize how bad some of the food they are eating is for them.
“The American public is clueless, just clueless. And the people who suffer the most in this country are our children,” she says. “What developmental milestones are they not going to be able to achieve because they are overweight at 5 or 6 and diabetic at 10?”
Norton says the goal of the book is to help teach young children — and their parents — to value healthy food and physical activity by using the cute characters Maji and Mongo.
The plot is easy for kids to understand. Maji is an always-on-the-go canine who knows his neighbor Mongo sits on the couch watching TV and eating unhealthy snacks for most of the day. Maji convinces Mongo to come outside and play, and the two become fast friends. The dynamic duo roller skate, build a fort out of rocks from a nearby creek and then a tree house.
Along the way, Mongo sheds his excess weight. But he is also teased by some neighborhood kids — only to have his friend Maji come to his rescue, telling him that it isn’t his weight that matters most, but how healthy he feels.
Mongo is in tip-top shape by the end of the book. He even manages some heroics of his own by saving a slow-moving turtle from being hit by a truck.
“I had qualms about having him save the turtle, because I didn’t want to encourage kids to jump in front of a truck,” Norton says. “But we really needed [to see] Mongo putting himself out there.”
Norton is planning to release several sequels to the book. The next edition will focus on healthy eating, while the third will introduce a new character named Margo who is struggling with an eating disorder. The author also hopes to release books on living eco-friendly and understanding diversity.
Norton says she “couldn’t be more pleased” with reaction to the book, noting when she appeared at a local Barnes and Noble over the weekend for a book signing, the store sold out of its copies.
“I really didn’t do this book to make any money,” she adds. “I really did the book to generate awareness and delight little children.”
Norton also hopes the book will serve to inspire people to work for policy and environmental changes that will help create a healthier country overall.
“I think we have a long way to go. I think there’s finally some awareness,” she says. “I think the problem is so critical at this point that it will take a change in our culture.”