What’s the latest news today in the world of encouraging literacy and discouraging obesity? The Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the American Academy of Pediatrics have made your friend and mine, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the poster child for obesity prevention. (Read more here.)

Yeah for fighting the evil twins, illiteracy and obesity, let’s all stand up and cheer, right?

Wrong. AHG and AAP–you blew it. Here’s how:

While children are not adults in miniature, they are still rational beings. Using TVHC to talk about obesity doesn’t make sense. Why? Because by the end of the book, despite having one tummy ache, the caterpillar does what caterpillars are supposed to do after eating LOTS. The caterpillar makes his “house” and then comes out of it a beautiful butterfly.

Do you see the incongruency when you pair THAT message up with the message of “don’t overeat” and “don’t eat unhealthy foods like lollipops and cake”? That’s what the caterpillar did and look how things turned out for him–SPLENDIDLY!

Children are smart. They are going to know that the message is mixed. The message sent by the book (caterpillars eat a lot and then they become beautiful butterflies) and the message from AHG and AAP (eat healthy food in moderation) do not go together.

Kids may not be able to figure out what’s wrong, that the messages don’t mesh, but they will pick up the disconnected vibe–and that will drown out the intended message.

When we work with kids and with kids’ books, we’ve got to give them both more credit than that.

A better choice? How about Little Pea by Amy Rosenthal? Like TVHC, it’s an all-around fun read. And it would be a great conversation starter about food and good eating habits.

Other ideas?

Here’s to thoughtfully thinking like a kid,