The Good, The Bad, and The Barbie
There’s a new book out today, and it’s called: The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on Us, recommended for readers 10 and up. Barbie has been played with, studied, celebrated, and vilified for more than fifty years. And she has unquestionably influenced generations of girls-whether that influence has been positive or negative depends on who you ask.
Barbie was invented by an incredibly strong woman in history. Ruth Handler co-founded the giant toy company Mattel with her husband. She was a self-starter who never took no for an answer, even when Barbie debuted at Toy Fair in 1959 and was a big flop. The toy buyers, who were mostly male, thought Mattel was out of its mind to try and sell a doll with breasts. Ruth was devastated. But it didn’t stop her from going after her dream–which was to give girls something to play with other than baby dolls, which were the only dolls on the market in the 50s other than paper dolls. The story behind why Barbie has the curves she does was also one Stone wanted to dig in to and find out just what was going on with that.
Author Tanya Lee Stone (who wrote Almost Astronauts, which won best nonfiction book of the year in 2009), generally writes about strong women in history or topics that empower girls. Stone spends an entire chapter on body image issues, and another chapter on the many things kids do with (and to) their Barbie dolls–as well as some of the reasons why. She received a LOT of “naked Barbie” stories from people who wrote in so it was a natural fit to explore what goes into all that Barbie play. She also has a chapter on ethnic diversity that explores how Mattel has attempted to reflect all different kinds of girls–and sometimes missed the mark.
When Stone started asking girls, boys, men and women how they feel about Barbie, she was amazed at how split down the middle people were. People either love her or hate her. The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie is part biography-both of the doll and of her inventor, Ruth Handler-and part exploration of the cultural phenomenon that is Barbie.
Praise for Stone’s book
“…Stone reveals the pathos behind so many relationships of girls with Barbie…In this balanced overview, both sides of the quandary are addressed….The author maintains her signature research style and accessible informational voice…” Starred Review from School Library Journal
“Sibert Medalist Stone tantalizes…Direct quotes from women and girls showcase the variety of feelings that Barbie engenders, and the author weighs in occasionally and effectively to show that though Barbie is often “just a doll…We have…helped make her the icon-and subject of controversy-that she is.” Starred Review from Kirkus