By Danielle Haynes
Niagara Gazette — Mary Anne Cappellino, local fitness expert, thinks it’s time for kids to get healthy, and she has just the way to inspire them.
With a little green frog named EEEK.
This Kenmore native, who now lives in Clarence, figured the best way to appeal to 3-to-7 year olds was through a fun story, bright colors and a goofy-looking amphibian designed by illustrator Russell Benfanti in her first children’s book, “The Most Clever Frog.”
“I think for the age group, it’s absolutely crucial,” she said. “Color, expression and imagery is what makes the books fun for kids to look at while moms are reading.”
The book — the first in a planned series of eight — focuses on EEEK as he is faced with a choice to be either active or inactive. Cappellino, who serves as wellness director at the Buffalo Athletic Club in the Town of Tonawanda, said the idea is to impress upon young children that they should spend a certain amount of time each day actively playing or exercising to keep healthy.
She said she views EEEK as a sort of life coach for young audiences, many of whom already struggle with health problems from being overweight or obese.
The Center for Disease Control says childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years, with the percentage of children aged 6 to 11 in the United States who were obese in 1980 at 7 percent, rising to 20 percent in 2008.
“The first book focuses on something that I wanted to use as the foundation for the series, which is the importance of addressing inactive time and active time and addressing calories in and calories spent,” Cappellino said, adding that more kids than ever are absorbed in screen time (computers, televisions, cellphones).
Dr. Steven Lana, a senior partner at Delaware Pediatrics, wrote the foreword to the book and said he served as a consultant to Cappellino’s research and editing process.
“We have a mutual passion about children and the importance of keeping them healthy and the rising number of children who are overweight or obese,” he said.
“I thought that she would be doing something that woud give us pediatricians another arrow in the quiver as we struggle with resources that will help children and parents get motivated.”
The book was only released about a month ago, but once he’s able, Lana said he plans to make it available to patients he thinks need the added encouragement.
In the back of the book, Cappellino said she included a list of resources and suggestions of family activities for parents to be able to continue teaching their children good eating and physical habits.
As the series progresses, EEEK will face new challenges and choices. Book two, “Lickity Split,” involves EEEK’s adventures in a frog race and should be published in about three months, Cappellino said.
The third will teach children to believe in themselves and future books address nutrition and making better choices.
Cappellino, a Mount St. Mary’s Academy graduate, said the EEEK series is her first stab at children’s writing, though she had previously published a book for adults titled “Move Me to Laugh, to Cry, to Believe, to Move,” a collection of stories about the benefits of physical activities.
To celebrate the launch of her children’s series, Cappellino will be on hand from noon to 1:30 p.m. Saturday for a book signing and a Mommy and me activity at the Buffalo Athletic Club for Women at 3157 Eggert Road in Tonawanda. Copies of the book will be available for sale at the signing.
For more information about EEEK and his adventures, visit www.eeekthefrog.com. The book is available for purchase on the website.