The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie

Viking Children's Books | 2010 | 10 and up


The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie
A Doll's History and her Impact on Us

Foreword by Meg Cabot

Barbie just might be the most famous doll in the world. She’s represented fifty different nationalities. She’s stepped into the always-fashionable shoes of more than one hundred careers. She 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.

When award-winning author Tanya Lee Stone started asking girls, boys, men, and women how they feel about Barbie, the first thing she discovered is how passionate people are about 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. Filled with personal anecdotes, memories, and opinions from people of all ages, and featuring original color and black and white photographs, this book is for anyone who understands that we’re all living in a Barbie world.  

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Winner of The Golden Kite Award! 

Lauren Myracle: "Holy belly buttons! This is no mere Barbie book. This is a how-to manual about being a girl!" 

E. Lockhart: "History writers don't get better...balanced, funny, provocative --important for anyone wanting to understand girlhood in America."  

Jess Weiner: "Love Barbie or hate her, what I admire about Tanya's book is that she takes an even eye to Barbie's global phenomenon and delicately lets readers explore their own complicated relationships to this very complicated doll."


Kirkus (starred): "Sibert Medalist Stone tantalizes with her brief and intriguing survey of Barbie. She begins with the history of Mattel, started by self-made businesswoman Ruth Handler in the 1940s, and moves onto materialism, body image, portrayals of ethnicity, nudity, taboo and art. 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." That authorial "we" often wavers between a universal and one that is clearly adult, and she herself suggests that adults are most concerned with Barbie as an idea, while kids engage with her as a doll, indicating an audience of teens and adults rather than children. The striking cover, open design with numerous photographs and collegial voice will appeal to younger readers, though, and if they overhear something of a conversation pitched to adults, they'll just take it as they can use it--as they already do with Barbie. (author's note, source notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 11 & up)"

School Library Journal (starred): "In the prologue, Meg Cabot describes her desire for a Barbie and her mother's reluctance to purchase one, basically summing up the conflict surrounding the doll since its introduction in 1959. Readers learn about Mattel Toys and the background behind Barbie's concept and development, how it was a solution for girls who wanted to imagine adult roles rather than just play mother, and details about inventor Ruth Handler. But more than that, Stone reveals the pathos behind so many relationships of girls with Barbie: those who cherished her and those who were negatively influenced. Was she a destructive role model or just a toy? Experts disagree. In this balanced overview, both sides of the quandary are addressed. Barbie's different roles, graduating from nurse to surgeon, stewardess to pilot, and always a woman of her own means, reflect societal changes over the past 50 years as well. Numerous black-and-white photos feature the doll in her various incarnations, while eight center pages deliver color versions as well as images of Barbie-inspired art. Inset quotes appear on a Barbie handbag icon. The author maintains her signature research style and accessible informational voice and includes extensive source notes and bibliographical information." -Janet S. Thompson, Chicago Public Library

BCCB: "Cover art of the sultry original with the arched brows, puckered crimson lips, blonde bombshell hair, and come-hither glance perfectly sets the tone for this study of the pop-culture icon: this is not about playtime or even collectibility, but about the firestorm of debate over Barbie's impact on girls' emotional development that has raged unabated since her debut in 1959. Stone calmly covers Barbie's creation by Ruth Handler, the formation of Mattel, and the doll's unpromising launch among sexpot-resistant buyers at a national toy fair. From there on, though, the gloves come off, and Stone allows the voices of women and teens, scholars and collectors, lovers and haters to thrash out whether Barbie has single-handedly set an unattainable standard of female beauty, joined forces with manipulative media to trash adolescent self-esteem, acted as the progressive model for girls to envision gender barrier-crashing careers, or reigned as-duh-just a really cool doll with really pretty clothes. Although the glossy color leaves inserted in the center of the book will attract younger browsers as well as wanderers down Memory Lane, most of the black-and-white photographs that appear within the text are there to support or refute the arguments made by Barbie's supporters and bashers. Stone orchestrates proffered testimonials and opinions with an evenhandedness that precludes decisive resolution, but anyone who's ever had a Barbie encounter of any kind-even the mutilating or sex-play variety described with relative tact herein-is unlikely to be swayed from her (or his) judgment anyhow. Notes, index, and an extensive bibliography may lure report writers into unconsidered territory, and teen book clubs might want to nominate this as a fiery nonfiction selection. EB 

Horn Book: "Is Barbie a blond Chucky slashing away at little girls' self-esteem? Or is she My First Feminist, with her lab coats, astronaut helmets, and high-fashion gowns, encouraging girls to imagine themselves in whatever roles they choose? Stone's evenhanded, eye-opening cultural history examines this split personality, quoting a myriad of sources to reveal the devotion and loathing generated by a fifty-plus-year-old hunk of molded plastic. Barbie debuted in 1959, after her creator Ruth Handler, a co-founder of Mattel, noticed her daughter Barbara eschewing baby dolls in favor of adult paper dolls. Stone reports Ruth as having said, "I used to watch [Barbara playing] over and over and think: if only we could take this play pattern and three-dimensionalize it, we would have something very special." With help from black-and-white and color photos, Stone fleshes out the different meanings of "very special"-from the persistent outcry over Barbie's impossibly "perfect" dimensions to the ways, some more successful than others, that Mattel has updated her over the years, attempting to make her more "real" (through skin tone and wardrobes). A particularly enjoyable chapter details the creative, often downright abusive play-"We used her as swords for duels. But the best was Marie Antoinette Barbie. On a scaffold built of encyclopedias, we whacked off her head but good"-girls have subjected Barbie to over the years. No wonder she's so popular: she's pretty, she has great clothes, and she's ours to adore or torture at will. Appended are an author's note, source notes, a bibliography, and an (unseen) index." christine m. heppermann