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The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less Paperback – April 9, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Married to a man with violent tendencies and a severe drinking problem, Evelyn Ryan managed to keep her 10 children fed and housed during the 1950s and '60s by entering--and winning--contests for rhymed jingles and advertising slogans of 25-words-or-less. This engaging and quick-witted biography written by daughter Terry (the writing half of T.O. Sylvester, a long running cartoon in the San Francisco Chronicle) relates how Evelyn submitted multiple entries, under various names, for contests sponsored by Dial soap, Lipton soup, Paper Mate pens, Kleenex Tissues and any number of other manufacturers, and won a wild assortment of prizes, including toasters, bikes, basketballs, and all-you-can-grab supermarket shopping sprees. Sometimes she even hit the jackpot, as when a Beech Nut jingle contest netted a Triumph TR3 sports car, a jukebox, a trip to New York and an appearance on the Merv Griffin show. But the Ryans' means were so limited that even a $25 prize was an economic boon. Between contests, Ryan provides dry-eyed glimpses of her father's violence, family medical emergencies and the crushing poverty of everyday life, showcasing the resilience of a mother who, despite her own problems, spurned television's Queen for a Day for making victims of its contestants. The result is a quirky, heartwarming celebration of one woman's resourcefulness, and of the wacky enticements of 1950s consumer culture. B&w photos throughout. Agent, Amy Rennert. (Apr. 4)Forecast: Infused with the pathos and pluck of Erma Bombeck, this updated version of Cheaper by the Dozen couldn't be better fodder for the TV and radio talk show circuit--and Ryan is already booked on the Today Show. If her delivery is as compelling in person as on the page, her 10-city tour will propel an full-tilt media blitz.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-While her sometimes abusive husband drank away a third of his weekly take-home pay, Evelyn Ryan kept her ever-growing family afloat by entering every contest she came across, beginning with Burma Shave roadside-sign jingles. In post-World War II America, money, appliances, food, excursions-anything you could think of-were routinely offered to the person who sent in the best jingle, essay, or poem, accompanied, of course, by the company's box-top or other product identification. Although she more often won prizes of products, such as a case of Almond Joy candy bars, Mrs. Ryan once won enough for a down payment on a house just as her family was being turned out of their two-bedroom rental house. That contest also won her a bicycle for her son. She entered so many contests, often several times under different forms of her name, that hardly a week went by without some prize being delivered by the postman. Charmingly written by one of her 10 children, this story is not only a chronicle of contesting, but also of her mother's irrepressible spirit. With a sense of humor that wouldn't quit, she found fun in whatever life sent her way, and passed that on to all her children who, despite the poverty they grew up in, lived and still live happy, useful lives. YAs who like family stories should love this winning account.

Sydney Hausrath, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (April 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743211235
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743211239
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (258 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #127,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

96 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Susan Sweet on September 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
For those of you who have seen the movie and now have become interested in finding out more about Evelyn Ryan and her remarkable career as mother/jingle writer, my advice: buy the book! I grew up in Defiance, Ohio, and actually attended school with some of the Ryan clan. I remember very vividly when Bruce won the Triumph sports car for the sandwich jingle. It was such an exciting time for little ol' Defiance. Then...Bruce never drove the car to school, nor did we ever see hide nor hair of it again. I never knew why until I read the book!

The book is very true to the times in a small town in the 1950s. People lived a quieter, gentler life. Tuff (Terry Ryan, the author) was a little spitfire that took no nonsense from anyone. It amazed me how she could write about the horrific things her father did and yet not have him come off as the Poster Boy for "Father Grinch of the Year." Tuff's book focuses on her mother as a mother, the keeper of the flame, the lighthouse beam in the dark and stormy night. The book does not focus on the relationship between the mother and the alcoholic father. The egregious acts of the father, in the book, are very quietly "slipped" into the story, but Tuff refrains from characterizing her father as an undesirable parent. Tuff does not let the negativity of his actions influence the positivity of her mother's love, devotion, and talent.

If you've seen the movie, discard the "saintly" portrayal of the mother and the incredulous idea of everytime the Ryans needed money, a miracle happened, and she won a jingle contest. In reality, the miracles DID happen, but the movie does not show all the times Evelyn did not win. The book is a thousand times better than the movie, and, although I think most people will laud the movie for its positive message and its "feel good" quality, like any other movie...the book is way better!
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67 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on April 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
You know how sometimes you read a book, and then a year or two later you can't remember much of anything about it?
Not so with this one. I would bet a lotta money that anyone who has read this book will never, ever forget it. It doesn't hurt that it's one of the best titles of all times, helping make the book unforgettable.
How Mrs. Ryan triumphed and managed to support 10 kids and a weak, alcholic husband by winning jingle-writing contests will go down in literary history. And the book's not saccharine; it doesn't preach; and it doesn't damn. Others among us may damn the 50s, the Catholic church, Mr. Ryan...But Terry Ryan does not.
Besides all those virtues, it's just very, very funny.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Mary G. Longorio VINE VOICE on May 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Terry Ryan grew up as one of ten children in a chaotic household in Definace, Ohio. Her mother Evelyn worked tirelessly to stretch the small amount of money her father brought home, especially since that husband, Kelly Ryan, was an alcoholic. Evelyn turned to contests to bring in money and prizes to keep her family afloat. A witty, well-read woman who was determined to see the bright side of every situation, Evelyn kept the family together. This is a warm, honest look at life in the 1950's and 60's. After turning to the police and the church for help, the family learns to rely on a close network of family and friends. Most of all, this big family learn to look out for one another and to help whenever they could. The rhythm of life in a big family comes out loud and clear, the constant struggle for space, for recognition, and the many trips to schools, dentists and doctors, even the occasional visit to the police. There are many times when the Ryan family was close to eviction,or completely empty cupboards. The family went without many times, but don't seem to carry a lasting sense of deprivation. Terry Ryan is also very upfront about the effects of her father's drinking, the anger, the violence and the resentment. It is also a look at a woman who seemed to be restricted by times and circumstances expressed her wit and gift for words. This is a wonderful tribute to a mother who was determined to do all she could to give her family what they needed. The monetary struggles are borne with a fierce dignity (although hindsight makes the author realize that it took its toll). Evelyn Ryan's refusal to give in to self pity or anger, and her compassion and understanding for others' shortcomings are remarkable and the greatest legacy any mother could leave her family.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Wanda B. Red VINE VOICE on February 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
Terry Ryan has written a touching memoir of her plucky, talented, and wise mother, Evelyn Ryan. The writing style is as straightforward, midwestern, and pragmatic as the remarkable family it describes.

Both an object lesson in the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity and a record of one woman's inspiring optimism, this book also reflects the texture of life in 1950s mid-America -- when cars, washing machines, lawn mowers, and TVs were not yet taken for granted.

Almost an oral history, it will become part of the record of that fast-fading time period, partly thanks to Evelyn's foresight in saving her letters and the many jingles that she entered in an amazing array of contests, and that enabled her to keep her struggling family afloat. Especially moving is the love this practical and humorous mother inspired (and continues to inspire) in her ten children, and the way they managed to love, judge, and forgive their father all at the same time.

This book brought me to tears; I'm going to send a copy to my 83-year-old father, both to remind him of the times he's been through and how much I love him.
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