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The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  11,654 Ratings  ·  1,899 Reviews
"The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" introduces Evelyn Ryan, an enterprising woman who kept poverty at bay with wit, poetry, and perfect prose during the "contest era" of the 1950s and 1960s. Stepping back into a time when fledgling advertising agencies were active partners with consumers, and everyday people saw possibility in every coupon, Terry Ryan tells how her mother ...more
Hardcover, 346 pages
Published April 4th 2001 by Simon & Schuster (first published April 1st 2001)
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Community Reviews

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Julie
Jul 08, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
I feel like my review of this book can best be summed up in 25 words or less:

In Honor of Mrs. Evelyn Ryan
The rhymes... too many;
The laughs... too few.
Glad that I read it,
but more glad I'm through.
Christy
Nov 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mix together “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” or “The Glass Castle” (for the drunken dad and the poverty) and “Cheaper by the Dozen” or even our own home in Orem, Utah, in the 50's, and you get the feel of this book. Author Terry Ryan lived in my own era, and she captures it perfectly. Hey, their family was even more deprived than we were! And I remember entering those contests, where you complete a jingle in 25 words or less. But I had no idea I was competing against women who wrote jingles full-tim ...more
Jennifer
May 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What I learned from this book is that you don't have to have a perfect life to be happy. Evelyn Ryan chooses to be happy in spite of numerous trials and setbacks, which would turn someone like me into a bitter old woman. Reading this book made me think that if she could raise her 10 children under her circumstances without regret, then maybe I can do a little better with my three kids, and keep a more positive outlook.

I also love the writing in this book, both Terry and Evelyn's writing! I am r
...more
Bonnie
4 stars

This is such a heartwarming story that I am surprised it has taken me until now to add it to my “read” shelves, let alone take the time to at least write a short review. Perhaps it is because it was on loan for so long to family and friends!

Now that I actually have it in hand, all I need to do is flip through the pages, complete with black and white pictures of family members, contest entries and/or rules, sometimes blank, sometimes completed with a typewritten entry, to remember why I re
...more
Wendy C
Jul 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this nonfictional account of a 1950s stay-at-home mom of ten children who kept the family clothed and fed by winning slogan contests. Her husband Kelly had a job at a machinery but drank away a big chunk of his paycheck (a pint of whiskey and a six pack of beer every night), so Evelyn Ryan relied on her clever wit to compensate.

The film based on the book is pretty true to the story. What I like about the book, though (which I read after seeing the movie), is reading all the rhym
...more
K
Dec 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: "Cheaper by the Dozen" fans; someone seeking a light, enjoyable, and inspirational read
Recommended to K by: goodreads
Shelves: memoirs
I don't want to mislead anyone. I usually reserve five star ratings for books that are life-changing and a profound reading experience, and this was neither. But, try as I might, I couldn't come up with a good reason to take off a star and felt dishonest doing it simply to preserve a snooty image.

This family memoir was honest and revealing without being bitter, sweet and uplifting without being sentimental. Like Cheaper by the Dozen, it was the story of a quirky but happy large (10 kids) family
...more
Kathy
Nov 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
Mom read a review of this book and one day went to the bookstore with several reviews and told the clerk she wanted all of them. She hadn't read it yet. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and kept quoting it the whole time I was there on vacation.
The author was number six of ten children born into an Irish Catholic family. The father drank a large proportion of his already insufficient paycheck. The mother, Evelyn Ryan, entered contests constantly to try to keep the family afloat. She also kept meticulou
...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Kinda makes you wish they still had contests requiring skill, rather than the random drawings of modern sweepstakes. I'm pretty good with words. I probably coulda won me some cool stuff.
Danae
Nov 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This kind of story always makes me feel really feisty-- it's about the author's mother who overcame the disadvantages of an alcoholic husband and poverty to raise 10 children; and then I realize, I am not living in poverty, and my husband is about as far from abusive as you can get. So, I guess the real take-home message is not to let your disadvantages define you, and to be the sort of person who gets out and does something about their problems rather than sit by and whine about them. This stor ...more
Penelope
Apr 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a great book! I read this right after reading Eat, Pray, Love and you couldn't find two more opposite stories. This story is about a woman who raises 10 children with her husbands meager income and her prize winnings from jingle contests. She enters this contests as much to give out let to her creative energy and wit as for the money. She shows her children how to give it your all and never give up and that the process is the enjoyment and outcome is a lucky byproduct.
What a great book!!
Jennie Menke
Audible. *

On the heels of The Goldfinch, and all the dialogue that has surrounded that review, I am giving up -- yes, GIVING UP -- on this book. I am taking to heart the many (the hundreds) of people who said "if you don't like the book then stop reading it!" I never do that. For one, I'm too cheap. For another, I always assume I'll be missing some nugget of brilliance.

But I am going to "just do it" and stop. This book is driving me mental. The very things that others love it for, I loathe it f
...more
Alyne
Apr 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Below I've included a touching anecdote on atonement.

I find this book to be compelling because it gives a deeper look into the life of an intelligent, hardworking, midwestern mom with 10 kids, living a life of poverty in the middle of nowhere, with an alcoholic husband who consistently ferried away any savings. In this true story, "Mom" makes ends meet by winning contests where you mail in limericks, 25 words or less type poems, and the last line of whatever jingle the company has created. She
...more
Maren
May 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I LOVED this book! It read like good fiction & was totally engaging. As a mother myself, I really could relate to Evelyn's life & situation. I only had one tiny quibble. I didn't like how the author (Evelyn Ryan's daughter) kept going back to the fact that Evelyn left behind what could've been a promising career writing to raise her 10 kids. She made a couple comments about how she would've been a high level executive in an advertising company if she hadn't gotten pregnant out of wedlock ...more
Marin
Jan 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My mom would love this book.

It's a worshipful biography of a woman who would supplement her husband's too-small-for-ten-kids income by writing advertising jingles and entering them in contests. The highlight for me was the anecdote about Mrs. Ryan's ten-minute grocery shopping spree. This homemaker was determined to fill her freezer (another contest win) with food items other than fish sticks, and she approached her one chance at free groceries with military strategy.

I also thought that the aut
...more
Bonnie
Apr 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a nonfiction account of how a woman of uncommon pluck and optimism provided for her family of 10 children and alcoholic husband by winning the kind of contests common in the mid 20th century that required writing skill and wit. It reminded me of "Cheaper by the Dozen" in style and good humor. It is uplifting, funny and heartwarming.
Jing
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Life’s struggles come in all shapes and sizes. Some are easy to grasp: crime, war, loss of a loved one, a disability… Some are much subtler: getting into a regrettable marriage, giving up hopes for a career, financial hardship, or societal obstacles in one’s pursuit of a fulfilled life… However, no matter what the cause, when the life’s dream is dashed for someone, the long-lasting pain leaves its mark all the same.

What else one holds onto, despite the pain, is what makes this book so inspiratio
...more
Sarah
May 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Love Love Love! This is the first time that a book has made me cry actual tears in a long time. And it did it twice. I usually skip a synopsis since I assume that my friends can read the one given on this website and that it will be more concise and coherent than anything I could write. As a result I think most of my reviews make little sense to anyone who has not read the book. So, in that vein...

Three favorite parts:
3: The chronicling of her sleepless night- considering I had just had a sleepl
...more
John
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure where or why I got this book. It's been lying around for some time, so I thought I'd give it a try. The story is heartbreaking in some ways, inspiring in others, and interesting throughout. It's the story of Evelyn Lenore Lehman Ryan and her family and how she kept them more-or-less solvent through winning product-promotion contests that were common-place during most of her married life. It's a history of a poor family living in small-town America during the middle of the 20th centu ...more
Sara
Feb 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, midwestern
Before reading this, I imagined a lucky woman winning a few contests. I didn't realize that "contesting" was a part of 1950s culture. There were magazines about how to win contests, and groups who got together to help each other. A big part of winning seemed to be knowing which advertising agency would judge; some wanted humor, some wanted earnest product endorsement, some appreciated clever word play. It's a history of this little-known cultural phenomenon.

It's also an autobiography--well, act
...more
Rebekkila
Nov 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who love ad jingles.
What a great story. The book is the true story of a mother of ten who helps support her family by entering contests. Whenever she heard of a company that was holding a contest to come up with a jingle for their product Evelyn would enter it. A lot of the products I haven't heard of, I was born a decade or two after these products were in their heyday. The majority of the contests paid between $1-$25 if they used your slogan. I did the math and a dollar then was equal to seven of today's dollars. ...more
Chrystal
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This wonderful true-life story is a portrait of American self-reliance and ingenuity. Evelyn Ryan (the author's mother) grew up in the Depression in a very small town in NW Ohio. She raised 10 children practically single-handedly (her husband was a drunk) by entering product contests which won her many prizes over the years. These prizes kept the family afloat financially. Ms. Ryan has written a lovely homage to her mother in a no-nonsense, unsentimental style that perfectly portrays Evelyn Ryan ...more
Rene
Aug 05, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would give this 3 1/2 stars if I could. I really enjoyed the book, but would have liked to hear a little more about the family dynamics and a little less of the jingles and contests. Plus I feel like I lost some of it not knowing the tempo or music behind the jingles. Plus I could not shake my questions about why Evelyn continued to have child after child with Kelly. Even the mother in Angela's Ashes said, "Enough is enough," well before they hit 10. Evelyn was clearly a loving devoted mother ...more
Sarah Obsesses over Books & Cookies
okay read. i love that time period where the marriages were cemented in, dad knocked back a few after work and june cleaver was in the kitchen making dinner every night for 530. I guess i love the sickly sweet tv of that time.
anyway, this book was a story of a woman who had 10 kids and the husbands pay wasn't cutting it to support them and since the kids were varying ages from toddler to 20 something the mom stayed home. And to help out financially she starts entering contests. What i liked was
...more
Homeschoolmama
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recently finished this great book. The author is the daughter of Evelyn Ryan, a fiesty, resilient mother of 10, who writes jingles and ads for contests. The story is mainly about her contesting.. but I am getting more 'umph' from the author's story behind the story: how her mother manages with 10 children, a drunken husband and a car that falls apart for years, washing machines and other appliances that die every month, not enough money for food and constant trips to the emergency room.. and y ...more
Diana
Apr 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely loved this book. What an incredible mother! There are times when the belt has to get cinched and she sure was talented and creative and very lucky to be able to take care of her family in a fun and interesting way. Life may not always give you what you ask for, but being positive in dire and hard times will pull you right through. She was always the glass is half full kind of lady, I admired that the most as I read this book. I really think everyone would enjoy this book!
Hectaizani
Who knew that in the 1950's you could essentially support a family of twelve by entering contests and writing poems? That is exactly what Evelyn Ryan did, she had ten children and an alcoholic husband who spent most of his salary getting loaded. To keep them fed and clothed, she wrote jingles and poems and submitted them to contests. She won quite often usually just in the nick of time to get a bill paid.
Tina
Nov 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thank you Terry Ryan for sharing your mother with the world. What a talented and special lady. How she managed to keep a positive outlook on life despite living with an underemployed alcoholic husband with ten children to care for is amazing. Your nickname was Tuff, but your Mom was the tough one.
Katy
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book could've been marketed as biography meets self help meets religious literature,perhaps. The inner strength of the heroine is incredible! Her insights , too. Plus,humor, and a terrific way with words. Loved it!
LeAnne
Dec 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Made me want to drink Dr Pepper! Really adorable and sober at the same time. Its as if Ralphie's mom from "A Christmas Story" had been real and had a doorknob-turning cat. Loved this.
Rebecca McNutt
A deep memoir exploring the life and times of a dysfunctional American family, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is as funny as it is harshly honest.
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“Writer's Resolution
Enough's Enough! No more shall I
Pursue the Muse and scorch the pie
Or dream of Authoring a book
When I (unhappy soul) must cook;
Or burn the steak while I wool-gather,
And stir my spouse into a lather
Invoking words like "Darn!" and such
And others that are worse (Oh, much!)
Concerning culinary knack
Which I (HE says) completely lack.
I'll keep my mind upon my work;
I'll learn each boresome cooking quirk;
This day shall mark a new leaf's turning...
That smell! Oh Hell! The beans are burning!”
6 likes
“Sometimes when your life seems most out of control, you know there's a direction. I don't mean you can't have free will--in fact, that can be the most important part.” 5 likes
More quotes…