Thursday, December 09, 2010

3 For 3: The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie

I love it when I read one excellent book after another; it makes blogging so much easier! Even better when I read three terrific books in a row. That is *rare*, ladies and gentlemen.

I mentioned The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie when we first ordered it. I was really looking forward to reading it since it had already received very good reviews. Having been a Barbie fan when I was a child, and having read many of the Barbie histories written for adults, this book went to the top of my never-ending TBR (To Be Read) list.

Tanya Lee Stone never really played with Barbies during her childhood; she feels this gives her a more objective outlook on the doll's influence on popular culture. For the most part, I think this is true. When reading adult nonfiction books about Barbie, it's usually fairly obvious whether the author is a fan or not (admittedly, they usually declare themselves one way or another in their introductions).

Stone gives a solid introduction to Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie, and the initial history of Barbie. I was pleased that Stone discussed Mattel's workplace diversity at the height of segregation; not only in terms of racial diversity, but also religious, ethnic, ability, and age. The initial cold reception to Barbie at the toy industry's major exhibition, as well as the (mostly negative) reactions from mothers in a focus group were very entertaining to read.

Fortunately for Barbie, Christmas toy commercials featuring her lovely self were just around the corner. Barbie made her mark in 1959; television sets in the home were becoming more common, and the baby boom phenomenon meant that the children's toy industry was red-hot. Barbie become *the* toy for the Christmas season, and the rest, as they say, is history.

It's impossible to write a Barbie book without acknowledging her passionate critics; Stone is careful to show both sides of the Barbie debate. I appreciate that many of her quotes, both positive and negative, come from preteen and teenage girls. Stone also pays tribute to the multi-ethnic and multi-national Barbies, including the controversies surrounding several of these dolls. She also explores the many ways girls play with Barbies; not only in dressing the dolls, but involving them in destructive play (removing limbs or the head, especially if a brother manages to get a hold of a Barbie), romantic acts (the examples are hilarious and so true, but don't worry, nothing too bawdy for this book intended for preteen and teen readers), or changing her appearance (cutting her hair, drawing on her, etc).

There are plentiful color photographs illustrating Barbie's changing looks over the decade, including the more expensive collectible editions. Barbie's wardrobe was initially created with loving care; nothing but the best fabric and buttons for her (of course, that didn't last very long due to the expense and time involved). You will definitely linger over these photographs; they are fantastic (I had a blast from the past when I saw Barbie and the Rockers). I *did* notice that in the discussion and illustrations of Barbie's many careers, there is no mention of her stint as a McDonald's employee.

Don't believe me?

Oh, I want to know the story behind that one, and when Mattel decided to not make the McDonald's set anymore.

I also missed a discussion about Barbie and the Rockers and Hasbro's upstart, Jem. Anyone remember Jem?

(The boys at school would sing, "Germ, Germ, she's truly contagious, truly, truly, truly contagious!")

Poor, poor Jem.

Those are just minor quibbles, and to be fair, the most interesting part of Barbie history is really 1960s-1970s. Stone paid a lot of attention to the multicultural Barbies, which is more important, and more expansive than other Barbie histories that I've read. Stone also delves into Barbie-inspired art, which is very cool.

All in all, this is a fun and informative book for preteen readers and older. Even if you're quite familiar with Barbie's history, you'll still enjoy reading this terrific book.

In my upcoming posts, I'll discuss A Girl Named Mister and Revolution. Also look for a post about books that we've recently ordered.

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