Friday, March 11, 2011

Winner Interview Series: Tanya Lee Stone, 2011 Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction

Tanya Lee Stone
When I was about nine years old, quite possibly the most traumatic event of my childhood occurred. One afternoon while I was inside reading a book, my arch nemesis Megan who lived up the street (and who is now a very nice grown up) recruited my little brother as an accomplice and they ravaged my beloved collection of Barbies who were minding their own business on the back porch. They cut off the hair, hands and feet of the dolls. They drew on their faces and bodies with ink. And they destroyed the extensive wardrobe, shredding everything from gorgeous gowns to groovy gogo boots. I was devastated. Wrecked. I cried for days. I'm actually getting choked up as I write this. And there's a small floral-print suitcase under a bed in my house filled with the remnants of the Barbie Incident of 1977--I never could bring myself to throw them away.

From little girls to grown-ups, so many of us have a connection with Barbie, or at least an opinion about her. And the latest author in my Winner Interview Series has written a terrific nonfiction book about the world's most famous doll. Prolific author Tanya Lee Stone's book THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE: A DOLL'S HISTORY AND HER IMPACT ON US recently received the Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction from the SCBWI. Today she tells us about her book, shares advice on research, and let us in on what exciting projects are on her plate. (Barbie's pal Ken is not among the topics.) We'll hear more from Tanya during the Golden Kite Luncheon at the Annual Summer Conference. (Mark your calendars!)

First, tell my readers about your book, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE. What let you to write about the iconic doll?

The book covers two main areas of interest to me: the first few chapters tell the story of how Ruth Handler and her husband started the Mattel toy company, and how Ruth came to invent Barbie. The rest of the book explores different themes concerning Barbie such as racial diversity, body image, how people play with the doll, and the controversy that surrounds Barbie.

The idea to write about this icon struck me when my editor Catherine Frank and I were talking about doing another book in Viking's Up Close series. I summarized the criteria--a 20th century icon that has had a big impact on our culture and that kids are familiar with--and said that Barbie fit the bill! (We both agreed she needed her own stand-alone title, though.)

Tanya won a Golden Kite for THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE

You've written more than 90 books for young reader including YA novels, picture books and nonfiction. What does winning the Golden Kite Award in the Nonfiction category mean to you?

The Golden Kite is an enormous honor. It is a fantastic feeling to know that my peers chose this book as the winner. I treasure my colleagues in this wonderful field of ours, and I couldn't be happier!

Research is key to nonfiction writing. Can you tell us a little about your research process? What tips would you offer to other writers regarding research?

Oh, we could talk for hours on this topic! My research process includes all the usual suspects--I read everything I can get my hands on--biography, autobiography, newspaper and magazine articles, scientific studies. I also seek out any audio or visual archival information, documentaries, etc. And for this book I put out the word that I was looking for people to go on record about their Barbie experiences.

You got input from a number of people about the impact Barbie has had on them. Can you share a favorite story or two?

It wasn't that a received any one particular story that I found so interesting. What fascinated me was that of the many hundreds of emails I did receive, they were fairly well split down the middle between positive and negative. I did not get more love than hate, and this was true within age groups as well. Just as many teenage girls told me Barbie made them feel badly about themselves as did girls who said it never occurred to them that they should look like Barbie--that she was just a doll.

Your book reveals the evolution of Barbie since she was introduced in 1959. How have you evolved as a writer?

I think I have changed quite a bit over the years. I started as an editor of nonfiction books for kids, then began writing the same kinds of books I had been editing, which was mainly fairly straightforward library market books that took a linear approach to a topic--the life cycle of a butterfly or the chronological treatment of a person's life.

But then I started looking at nonfiction through a different lens and asking myself different kinds of questions. What point of view did I want to consider? What part of a story most spoke to me? I started to think about nonfiction with the same kinds of techniques fiction writers use, focusing on character and plot--the only difference being the characters and plots are true. It was very freeing.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects? What are you working on and what will we see next on the shelves?

I have two picture books that will be forthcoming--one about Elizabeth Blackwell and the other about Jane Addams (both published by Henry Holt). And the next long-form nonfiction book I am doing is called COURAGE HAD NO COLOR (Candlewick), which is about the first African-American paratroopers in World War II. Like ALMOST ASTRONAUTS, this is a little known story about people who broke down barriers and paved the way for others who came after them.

1 comment:

Laurie Thompson said...

Thanks to both of you for the great interview! And congratulations on winning the Golden Kite, Tanya! :)