Marge Piercy Barbie Doll Essay Contest

Maryam Salah reads her letter in the Massachusetts State House in Boston; she learned that “outward appearance means nothing.” - Center for the Book

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One hundred fifty young readers across the country have been honored with state and national awards for their achievements in this year’s Letters About Literature writing contest, sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress in association with Target.

Six national winners received cash awards and also earned for their community or school library a $10,000 Letters About Literature reading-promotion grant. Twelve national honorable mention winners were also chosen, receiving cash awards and earning for their community or school library a $1,000 reading-promotion grant.

With funding provided by Target, the national reading-promotion program challenges young readers to write a personal letter to an author, describing how that author’s work has changed their view of the world or of themselves.

More than 70,000 children in grades four through 12 participated this year. Students compete in one of three competition levels: elementary school, grades four through six; middle school, grades seven and eight; and high school, grades nine through 12. On the state level, the program is sponsored by affiliate state centers for the book. State and national judges include published authors, editors, publishers, librarians and teachers.

For information about the contest and to read the winning letters go to For further details, contact the national program director at [email protected]

National Winners

Level 1 (Grades 4-6)

Taylor Mathews, Searcy, Ark., Erin Hunter, “Into the Wild”
Maryam Salah, Shrewsbury, Mass., Jerry Spinelli, “Maniac Magee”

Level 2 (Grades 7-8)

Christian Lusardi, Ridgefield, Conn., George Selden, “The Cricket in Times Square”
Audrey Wood, Afton, Va., J.M. Barrie, “Peter Pan”

Level 3 (Grades 9-12)

Akash Kar, Saratoga, Calif., Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Namesake”
Ashli Bynum, Ada, Mich., Marge Piercy, “Barbie Doll”

Left: 2011 Illinois Letters About Literature Winners visit the Secretary of State’s State Capitol Office in Springfield. Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White congratulates, from left, Level II winner Naasir Haleem of Naperville, Level III winner Stacie Cler of Bloomington and Level I winner and National Honor winner Conrad Oberhaus of Lincolnshire.
Right: National winner Taylor Mathews accepts his award at Southwest Middle School in Searcy, Ark., from Crystal Long, Arkansas Center for the Book coordinator, and Guy Lamolinara of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. - Photos courtesy Center for the Book

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Below are excerpts from letters written by the six national winners:

Written by Taylor Mathews to Erin Hunter, author of “Into the Wild”

“Before I read your book, I knew many kids who loved to read, but I was not one of them. My posse of friends and I often made fun of ‘the readers.’ We would tease them and call them names. … However, all that changed that fateful day my mom showed me your book, ‘Into the Wild.’ … Without your books, I might still be that ignorant bully, teasing kids and missing out on one of life’s greatest joys—reading.”

Written by Maryam Salah to Jerry Spinelli, author of “Maniac Magee”

“In your novel, ‘Maniac Magee,’ only a few had the courage to cross from one side [of Hector Street] to the other. Those were the characters that did not recognize or accept any difference between races … Many times I wished that my divide was invisible, but as I walk through the mall in my head cover (hijab), I sense the divide … Some people went from smiles to disapproval. Sadly, discrimination is real.”

Melina George of Notre Dame Preparatory School, Towson, Md., reads her letter, which won first place for grades 4-6, during the state’s Letters About Literature awards ceremony. - Center for the Book

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Written by Christian Lusardi to George Selden, author of “The Cricket in Times Square”

“As if by fate, I read the book ‘The Cricket in Times Square’ at the beginning of fourth grade, right before I got sick. My [cancer] diagnosis in the middle of one scary Saturday night whisked me away from everything familiar to me without warning. Thoughts of Chester surviving in his new world inspired me to fight with all my strength and to keep fighting through the long haul. Chester and I not only survived, but thrived, despite the terrible odds against us. And, along the way, we both made some incredible new friends. Mine included a brave little cricket, and for that, I thank you.”

Written by Audrey Wood to J.M. Barrie, “Peter Pan”

“Some people lose touch with the magic in their lives as they get older. ‘Peter Pan’ reminds people of the magic in their lives. … Reading ‘Peter Pan’ when I was little is a part of what makes me, me. ‘Peter Pan’ taught my family to find the magic and adventure in life. Sometimes seeing the magic in life is almost as easy as swallowing candy and sometimes it’s much more difficult. … Of all the books, poems, plays, and speeches I have ever read or listened to, yours made the biggest impact on me and my family.”

Written by Akash Kar to Jhumpa Lahiri, author of “The Namesake”

“For a few magical hours, I had the opportunity to sit in front of a mirror and reflect on my past, my present, my future, my family and my heritage. No, I did not literally sit in the bathroom on a chair, but I read your personally touching novel ‘The Namesake.’ The book moved me to tears at points, thinking of how Gogol struggles to follow his culture over his own personal desires; how Ashima must keep her culture alive as she assimilates to life in the United States; and how Moushumi has to lie to her parents in order to study in the field she chooses. … I see these struggles happening on a day-to-day basis in my life, and reading this book gave me an opportunity to look at them from an outside perspective and allow me to reflect on what truly is important in life.”

Written by Ashli Bynum to Marge Piercy, author of “Barbie Doll”

“I want to thank you for educating the world about the effects social standards truly have on young girls today. Maybe one day, the girl on the cover of the magazines will be replaced by someone who has Down syndrome, uses a wheelchair, is full figured or even has albinism. Every person has something to offer this world, no matter who they are or what they look like. After all, even though a can is damaged, it still holds the same contents as an undamaged can.”

Back to July/August 2011 - Vol. 70, Nos. 7-8

The title Barbie Doll suggests that the writer is about to discuss a child’s toy, maybe a little girl’s prized possession. After reading the poem, is apparent that the title is not about a toy but more about an image of perfection, society’s idea of perfection. I find the author’s comparisons of reality, to society’s image and the effect that it has on young girls very interesting.

Barbie is the kind of doll that is given to almost every little girl at a very young age her and in mind she sees that this doll is perfect in every way, perfect beautiful face, perfect long blonde hair, perfect (very unrealistic) shaped body, and of course there are so many career titles that Barbie has achieved…. Doctor Barbie, Teacher Barbie, President Barbie, Astronaut Barbie, Ambassador for World Peace Barbie…. the list goes on and on.

A toy maker that thought that they were giving little girls options for careers and showing them that they can be anything that they wanted to be but was actually giving little girls the impression that they could or had to achieve all of these careers because “Barbie” did. In the first stanza of the poem “This girlchild was born as usual/ and presented dolls that did pee-pee/ and miniature GE stoves and irons/ and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy/” (835) this is describing that the child is a typical young girl that was given miniature toys that imitated real life.

These items give her a false sense of what real life is like. The last two lines of the first stanza states “Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:/ You have a great big nose and fat legs. ” (835) Puberty is the turning point for every young girl, where her body is changing and she compares her image of herself to what she sees around her and what she has seen in her past, including Barbie the representation of a real woman that she played with in her imaginary world as a child. This is the time when a classmate makes negative remarks about what they see her looks to be like.

These negative remarks stay with her like a loud speaker playing over and over in her head. No matter what is she sees or what is said to her, the vision stuck in her head is that everyone is staring at her “great big nose and fat legs. ” This in no way means that she actually has a big nose or fat legs but now that she has this remark playing over and over in her head, she believes it to be true no matter what she does or how she tries to change herself. None of her finer qualities can even try to outweigh the negative remarks in her head.

In her mind, after trying everything that she could change her image and quiet the loud speaker in her head “her good nature wore out/ like a fan belt. ” (836) Like a worn out fan belt on a vehicle gets old and brittle until it eventually breaks, so did her good nature or her willingness to fight the quest for perfection. “So she cut off her nose and legs/ and offered them up. ” These lines show that she is admitting defeat and removing those parts of imperfection that she cannot change. She has given up on life because she cannot reach her vision of perfection and therefore does not fit into society’s mold of what she thinks she should be.

The last stanza describes her deceased body in the casket at her funeral, painted up with make-up to perfection and with a new nose made of putty, beautifully sculpted just for her. As people often do at a funeral, only kind words are spoken about her, society would find it rude to say anything negative after one has passed from this life. These comments would have been much more helpful if they were said to her in her during her life rather than after her death, although they probably still would not have drowned out the loud echo in her head that has controlled her image of herself.

In the last line the author plays on the words that the woman has a happy ending. These are strong words that are saying that she could not ever be happy in life but could only be truly happy in death, when she no longer has to fight to meet the standards of society. The author gave a strong message about what was happening in the society with young women everywhere and that poor body image and low self-esteem was not only taking young girl’s true spirit but also their lives.

I got that message loud and clear and so I found the author’s words and comparisons to be quite effective. This poem was from 1973 but these words and their meaning still rings true in 2009. It makes me wonder if society will ever get the message that they have the ability to change this image and make a difference. The truth that it shows, no one can ever be truly happy, makes me very sad. Piercy, Marge. “Barbie Doll. ” @ The Norton Introduction to Literature. 9th ed. Ed. Alison Booth, J. Paul Hunter, and Kelly J. Mays. New York: Norton, 2005. 835-36. Print

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