Saturday, July 2, 2011

Paul Zindel VS Barbara Wersba = LOVE

There are many similarities between the style and background of the writers Barbara Wersba and Paul Zindel. The former was born in 1932, the later in 1936. They both had a theatrical background. Zindel was a playwright before he started writing books for teens. Wersba was an actress. As children, both were loners and spent a good time alone creating dramas for dolls. They each turned to writing after recuperating from a long illness. Later in life, they both would have mentors in friendships with well known authors. For Zindel it was Edward Albee and for Wersba it was Carson McCullers.

Both Wersba and Zindel would have their first young adult novels published in 1968. For Zindel it was The Pigman and for Wersba it was The Dream Watcher. Each of these books dealt with teenagers who formed a relationship with an eccentric elderly person. Ironically, both of these books were later adapted for the stage. There is a theatricality to both of their writing styles that showcases offbeat characters with both verve and wit. Additionally, both writers tend to set their stories in or around New York City with locations such as Long Island, New Jersey and Staten Island.

It is a little bit overwhelming for me to write about the work of these authors. They each have written so many books and each one is a gem. I continue to reread their books and the emotional content is so strong. Seriously, no other authors can set up a tragic romance quite like these two. Both usually write in the first person and their books feel as though the character is talking directly to the reader in an authentic teenage voice. To me their books balance a fine line between heartbreaking and hilarious.

Zindel is the darker of the two and exercised many personal demons through the writing process. Wersba is the more poetic one, who comes to peace in finding strength in being a loner as opposed to being lonely. I really can't pick a favorite.

For more info. on these authors, and a detailed analysis of their works, I highly recommend the "Presenting" series of books.

Eventually, I hope to muster the courage to write more about Paul Zindel and Barbara Wersba. The problem is that I have too much to say and too much admiration for their work to say anything wrong. Just thinking about them gives me the goosebumps, seriously. That is how much I love their work.

It is not just that The Pigman and The Dream Watcher are essential classics of the YA genre. It's that both of these authors continued to expand upon the themes created in each of these books into a series of books that stretched over a period of 20 years. They were not only exploring themes of youth, but also delving deep into their hearts in the process. I don't know of any other authors who put so much emotion into the genre of teen fiction with such humor, spirit and affection.

The Pigman and The Dream Watcher were two of the most successful YA books of all time. It amazes me that the work of these authors has begun to disappear from libraries. For me, they shall never be forgotten. I truly believe that these books would still resonate for new generations of young readers.

For those unfamiliar with these books, here are the blurbs from the publishers:

The Dream Watcher by Barbara Wersba

Albert Scully is the quintessential miserable teenager. He considers himself the "All American" failure until he meets Mrs. Orphan Woodfin, an eighty-year-old neighbourhood eccentric who helps him see the value of being an individual.

The Pigman by Paul Zindel

Meet Mr. Pignati, a lonely old man with a beer belly and an awful secret. He's the Pigman, and he's got a great big twinkling smile. When John and Lorraine, two high school sophomores, meet Mr. Pignati, they learn his whole sad, zany story. They tell it right here in this book -- the truth, and nothing but the truth -- no matter how many people it shocks or hurts.


  1. You write about these with so much feeling that I am inspired to read them too.

  2. I just read Walter, The Story of a Rat with my fourth graders and they loved it! It is so well written and so moving that some of the kids actually had tears of happiness at the end. We tried to find her address so they could write to her but her small company in NY has closed and I couldn't find another address for her.