By Karen Billing
Jenny Craig will visit the Rancho Santa Fe Children’s Library at 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 15, to sign and discuss her children’s book, “I Believe in Genevieve,” a story that shares Craig’s lifelong positive message about being strong and healthy.
The book tells a tale borrowing from Craig’s other big passion: horses. Genevieve wants to ride well in a large horse show at the end of summer, but she and her horse, Candy Ride, must get healthy to compete. To go for the championship means cutting out sweets and eating nutritious foods, and for both horse and rider to get plenty of exercise.
In the book, Genevieve and her sister, Trudy, get tips from a great horse rider on how to have fun while being healthy.
“I tried to give kids the impression that living healthfully can be fun,” Craig said. “Moving your body is the main thing.”
Craig gives big kudos to her illustrator, Wendy Edelson, whose “brilliant” watercolor paintings have created the look of a wonderful, old-fashioned book.
“Books are sadly disappearing from our horizon. To get kids visually interested in books is really a step in the right direction,” Craig said.
All of the characters are taken from Craig’s real life: While everyone has always called her “Jenny,” her full name is Genevieve and her two-years-older sister is Trudy. The trainer in the book is named John, after her horse trainer, John Sadler.
The book mirrors the active, equestrian childhood that Craig enjoyed. Growing up in New Orleans, Jenny and Trudy loved to ride horses, renting them and riding two to three times a week.
At the end of book, Craig includes exercises that kids can do, as well as several recipes for healthy snacks.
“Kids really love making things. Give them recipes they can easily follow and they feel like it’s an accomplishment.”
Craig has written other books. Her first was “What Have You Got to Lose,” all about the Jenny Craig weight-loss program she started with her husband, Sid, in 1983, followed by several cookbooks.
She has recently completed her autobiography, but hasn’t yet decided whether she will print it just for family or make it available to the public.
She had never even thought of writing a children’s book until a dear friend suggested it.
“It’s so important to start children out with the right attitude toward food,” Craig said. “We tend to use food as a reward or punishment, and we send a lot of bad messages to children as they’re growing up. Parents underestimate the value they have as role models.”
She said often children remember better what they see than what they hear, and if parents aren’t eating vegetables but insist that their kids do so, they’re sending a mixed message. Craig said parents can play a powerful role in promoting a healthy lifestyle, not just with eating the right foods but by staying active alongside them.
“Play ball or go for a walk with your kids. Do things that are fun, and children will look forward to it, and then it becomes a routine,” Craig said.
She has always practiced what she preached. She works hard to be a good role model to her 14 grandchildren, teaching them at an early age to be active and eat right.
“If you get used to eating the right foods, it’s what you always want,” Craig said.
While she doesn’t ride horses anymore, exercise is still a part of her life every day. She used to do daily 4-mile walks on the beach until she tore her hamstring. Now she uses a treadmill and does weight training, plus pool exercises in the summer.
Previously, Craig has gone on book tours to promote her books, but she decided against one of those “grueling” tours with “I Believe.”
“I did this as a fun project,” she said, noting she did just one signing last year at the Del Mar Racetrack and another at Warwick’s in La Jolla, making the Rancho Santa Fe event a unique opportunity.
“I’ve received nothing but very positive reviews … I get cute notes from readers, which tells me it was worthwhile for me to contribute that much time and commitment to this project.”
Since 1983, Craig has spread a message of positivity, health and wellness. While she is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of Jenny Craig, the company boasts more than 600 franchised centers and more than 75,000 people following the Jenny Craig program in an average week.
“It means the world to me,” she said, recalling times when she would be out to dinner with Sid and people would come to her table to tell them about their sister, brother, mother, friend — somebody who had lost weight using the program and what it meant to them. “I really love hearing the stories; I never got tired of that. When you know that you had some impact, however small, to help someone achieve a healthier body and lifestyle, wouldn’t that make everybody feel good?”
She remembers starting every day reading letters from people who had used the program and found success.
“I would feel so good,” Craig said. “That has been the greatest reward. I always have said that I would have done what I did even if I didn’t get paid for it. I really did it for the self-fulfillment and enjoyment I got from helping people.”
She’s hoping now that with “Genevieve,” she can reach and teach a whole new generation.
The Rancho Santa Fe Library is at 17040 Avenida de Acacias. The book is available at Warwick’s in La Jolla and from online bookstores (such as amazon.com) or from the publisher at www.regnery.com.