[Book Review] Barbie: The Front Window

As a successful dressmaker in the Victorian era, Barbie has everything she could ever want--except the right to vote! When the local paper refuses to print a story on women's rights, Barbie's and Skipper's beliefs are put to the test. They have to act--even if it means losing everything.

Barbie has gotten a lot of flack over the years. She's been accused of causing anorexia, promoting vapid materialism, and reinforcing gender stereotypes. If you're on board with that and genuinely believe that Barbie is going to have such a negative influence on your children that you simply can't bear to associate with the brand, this book is obviously not for you. Personally, I think that's a damn shame. It's a pretty great book for introducing children to feminism.

Over the years, Barbie dolls have been produced that presented the characters as a teacher of American Sign Language, an American football coach, a surgeon, a paratrooper, the United States president, an astronaut, a NASCAR driver, and many, many other careers ranging from traditionally feminine roles to ones that break gender barriers. Here, Barbie becomes an even more impressive feminist icon: an 1800's crusader for women's right to vote.

In the story, Barbie's teenage sister, Skipper, is working on her school's paper with Becky, the paper's wheelchair-bound adviser. When she's tasked with writing a story on "women in business", she's disappointed; businesswomen are old news. What's interesting about women running businesses? But her research leads her to Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and their paper, The Revolution. And she discovers that back in the late 1800's, Susan B. Anthony even made a visit to Skipper's town!

From there, she learns the story of The Front Window, a short-lived feminist newspaper run by a local female dress shop owner upset with the mainstream local newspaper's refusal to write about Anthony and her beliefs. So when she drifts off to sleep in the library, what could she possibly dream about but the story of The Front Window?

What The Front Window--the book, that is--boils down to is an All Just a Dream historical fiction story that casts Barbie as a women's rights crusader in an attempt to teach children about the women's suffrage movement and the prejudice women faced in the 1800s.

I highly recommend the book to Barbie fans, though sensitive children unfamiliar with the concept of sexism might be more upset than educated. For those children that can handle the subject matter, I would advise complementing this with some nonfiction about the women's suffrage movement, as it doesn't cover a ton of actual history; it also fails to address modern sexism, leaving a younger reader with the impression that there's no such thing. If you feel your child's old enough to be introduced to that particular issue, you might want to look into following this up with some books addressing second-wave and modern feminism. Unfortunately, I haven't read much on the subject and can't recommend anything in particular.

Also, be sure to check out other Barbie books in this series, if you enjoy this one. They're adorable, fun, and often educational; great reading for young children.

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