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Horvath, Polly 1957-

Horvath, Polly 1957-

Personal

Born January 30, 1957, in Kalamazoo, MI; daughter of John Anthony (a teacher) and Betty Ann (a writer) Horvath; married Arnold Keller (a professor); children: Emily Willa, Rebecca Avery. Education: Attended Canadian College of Dance and Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance.

Addresses

Home—Metchosin, British Columbia, Canada. Agent—Amy Berkower, Writers House, 21 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected]

Career

Writer. Former ballet teacher.

Awards, Honors

Notable Book selection, American Library Association (ALA), Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book designation, and National Book Award finalist, all for The Trolls; Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book designation, 2001, and Newbery Medal Honor Book designation, ALA, White Raven Award, and Book of the Year for Children Award nomination, Canadian Library Association (CLA), all 2002, all for Everything on a Waffle; National Book Award for Young People's Literature, Best Books for Young Adults selection, ALA, and Young-Adult Book of the Year, CLA, all 2004, all for The Canning Season; Young-Adult Book of the Year shortlist, CLA, 2007, and Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize, both for The Corps of the Bare-boned Plane.

Writings

An Occasional Cow, illustrated by Gioia Fiammenghi, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1989.

No More Cornflakes, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1990.

The Happy Yellow Car, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1994.

When the Circus Came to Town, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1996.

The Trolls, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1999.

Everything on a Waffle, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2001.

The Canning Season, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.

The Pepins and Their Problems, illustrated by Marylin Hafner, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.

The Vacation, Groundwood Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2005.

The Corps of the Bare-boned Plane, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.

My One Hundred Adventures, Schwartz & Wade Books (New York, NY), 2008.

M Is for Mountie: An RCMP Alphabet, illustrated by Lorna Bennett, Sleeping Bear Press, (Chelsea, MI), 2008.

Adaptations

Everything on a Waffle and The Trolls were adapted for audiocassette and produced by Listening Library.

Sidelights

Children's author Polly Horvath's novels for middlegrade readers and young adults rely on ridiculous situations and slapstick action to achieve the humorous effect that has so delighted critics. Her protagonists are often precociously bright and outspoken young girls who provide a perspective on those around them that has been praised for challenging and enlightening young readers. Employing sophisticated wordplay, Horvath relies on exaggeration and the contrast between a high-flown narrative and ridiculous incidents to create the whimsical perspective that makes novels such as Everything on a Waffle, The Pepins and Their Problems, and The Vacation so popular.

Born in 1957, Horvath developed an early interest in telling stories. "I was eight when I started writing," she remarked on the Scholastic Web site. "I did all kinds of writing—novels, poetry, funny stories," she added, noting that in high school she was encouraged by an English teacher, who read all of her works, and a German teacher who provided her with an office in the school library. "I did have an agent for a while when I was in my teens," she recalled. "I didn't publish anything but it gave me a huge amount of experience writing and sending out manuscripts." Horvath later studied at the Canadian College of Dance in Toronto and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York City, but also continued to write, supporting herself by teaching ballet classes. Her first published work, the middle-grade novel An Occasional Cow, took seven years to complete.

In An Occasional Cow, ten-year-old Imogene is unwillingly sent to stay with cousins in Iowa for the summer and she expects to be bored by the unsophisticated country folk and their ideas of entertainment. She meets her cousin Josephine there and has several fights with the girl before the two become friends. According to David Gale in School Library Journal, "part of the fun" in An Occasional Cow is "the overblown and sophisticated vocabulary of the precocious protagonists."

Another well-spoken pre-teen takes center stage in No More Cornflakes. In this work, lonely ten-year-old Hortense is trying to deal with the overwhelming changes occurring in her family, starting with her mother's pregnancy. The novel's "characters are less eccentric and more believable" than those in An Occasional Cow, commented Nancy Vasilakis in a Horn Book of Horvath's second book. "Hortense is the Midwest's answer to Anastasia Krupnik—witty, sophisticated, and literate," concluded Deborah Stevenson in a review of No More Cornflakes for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

The Happy Yellow Car is "an outrageously funny family story," wrote Virginia Golodetz in School Library Journal. Horvath's novel, set during the Great Depression of the 1930s, begins as Betty Grunt's father comes home with a fancy yellow car. It is soon discovered that Mr. Grunt has paid for the shiny new automobile with the money Betty's mother had saved to pay for Betty's college education. This blow is quickly forgotten, however, when Betty is elected Pork Fry Queen and begins a frantic search for the dollar necessary to pay for her flowers. The novel's "shenanigans [are] made more comical for sophisticated readers by Horvath's satirically flowery narrative," commented a critic in Kirkus Reviews. A Publishers Weekly contributor also emphasized the novel's humor, remarking that while the ending of The Happy Yellow Car is abrupt, Horvath compensates for this with her "fresh humor and razor-sharp dialogue."

Fifth-grade friends-in-arms Ivy and Alfred are the dual stars of When the Circus Came to Town, as they work to take the bite out of a town-wide snub after a family of circus performers moves in next door. The two youngsters fight the efforts of the stuffy church casserole committee, the members of whom wish to prevent the new family from attending the next town-wide bakeoff. At the event, a "pie-throwing brouhaha … comes to an unexpectedly melodramatic climax," according to Margaret A. Bush in her positive review of Horvath's novel in Horn Book. Praising When the Circus Came to Town as a "rollicking ode to silliness," a Publishers Weekly contributor added that Horvath "remains a master of the middlegrade comedy." Noting the serious subtext—a condemnation of intolerance—underlying the "wacky, offbeat novel," Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin also praised the novel for "prompting discussion of a serious subject."

The Trolls, a National Book Award finalist, centers on three siblings—Melissa, Amanda, and Pee Wee Anderson—who fall under the care of their loquacious Aunt Sally while their parents vacation in Paris. During her stay, Sally regales the children with uproarious family tales, but when she notices that Pee Wee is being mistreated by his older sisters, she discloses a shameful episode from her own past that involved the children's father. "Horvath, a master storyteller herself, skillfully parallels the two generations as she conveys the unthinking cruelty older siblings often bestow upon younger ones," noted Horn Book reviewer Christine Heppermann.

A Newbery Medal honor book, Everything on a Waffle takes place in Horvath's home province of British Columbia, Canada, where eleven-year-old Primrose Squarp worries at the prolonged absence-at-sea of both her fisherman parents. Eventually, Primrose is farmed out to a succession of temporary parents, including a distant uncle and a crotchety old woman, before winding up in a foster home. Throughout her journey, the young girl maintains a troupe of loyal friends, including her uncle and the owner of a restaurant where everything is served on a waffle. Horvath, who marks Primrose's journey with recipes at the end of each chapter, "doesn't offer an easily encapsulated plot but instead sees Primrose through her time of troubles as she bounces off people and events like a pinball," explained Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor Deborah Stevenson. Calling Everything on a Waffle a "perceptive, barbed tale," a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the plucky protagonist "is a serious, sturdy soul, able to hold her own against [the story's] … quirky … supporting cast." "Subtlety and slapstick is a challenging combination," added Horn Book contributor Sarah Ellis; in Everything on a Waffle "Horvath pulls it off beautifully."

The Canning Season also concerns a displaced adolescent. The only child of an emotionally detached mother, thirteen-year-old Ratchet Clark is sent to the Maine woods to live with her eccentric, elderly great aunts, Tilly and Penpen. During the long summer, Ratchet finds companionship with another abandoned teen, Harper, who arrives unexpectedly in Glen Rosa. The Canning Season won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and received strong reviews. "Horvath's descriptive powers are singular …, her uncensored Mad Hatter wit simply delicious, her storytelling skills consummate," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor of the award-winning novel.

In The Pepins and Their Problems, a work that drew comparisons to Helen Cresswell's "Bagthorpe" series, a dim-witted family attempts to solve a series of seemingly never-ending problems. Using her "psychic" powers, Horvath takes suggestions from her readers for assisting the Pepins, who are cursed with a cow that gives lemonade and an invasion of toads. "Horvath's mock serious commentary sets just the right tone," observed Steven Engelfried in School Library Journal, and a reviewer in Publishers Weekly stated that the "brazenly funny developments keep the conceit and the comedy energetic all the way to the finish line."

The relationship between a twelve-year-old boy and a pair of quirky relatives takes center stage in The Vacation, "another delightfully offbeat yarn," remarked School Library Journal critic Connie Tyrrell Burns. When his parents abruptly leave to become missionaries in Africa, young Henry is left in the care of his bickering spinster aunts, Magnolia and Pigg, who promptly embark on an aimless cross-country road trip during which Henry comes to a number of "life-altering conclusions about surviving in an unpredictable world," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Horvath "has a unique style, intermingling the grotesque and the absurd with the poignant," noted Kliatt critic Janis Flint-Ferguson. "This novel is no exception."

Another award-winning title, The Corps of the Bare-boned Plane, centers on orphaned cousins Meline and Joceyln, who are sent to a remote island off British Columbia to live with their scholarly Uncle Marten. As the girls deal with the loss of their parents, they learn that the island was once used as a military base and attempt to construct an airplane from scavenged parts. They also form an unusual bond with their reclusive uncle and his assistants: Mrs. Mendelbaum, a Holocaust survivor, and Humdinger, an enigmatic butler. Writing in Horn Book, Vicky Smith called The Corps of the Bare-boned Plane "a remarkable examination of the extremes of emotional distress," and Burns observed that the "novel's message lies in the importance of connectedness and the conviction that love comes at the cost of tremendous loss and grieving."

In a Publishers Weekly interview with Kit Alderdice, Horvath stated that the most gratifying aspect of her critical success is "being able to write without having to do something else like teach or find another way to support myself. It's just a huge luxury to me, to have whole days [to write in]. I never take that for granted. Because I'm probably never going to be a popular writer in the sense of selling millions of books, getting critical attention and awards has just boosted the books enough that I can write full time, which has been wonderful."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Book, May-June, 2002, review of Everything on a Waffle, p. 29.

Booklist, November 15, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of When the Circus Came to Town, p. 588; March 1, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Trolls, p. 1206; April 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of The Canning Season, p. 1387; August, 2004, Kay Weisman, review of The Pepins and Their Problems, p. 1934; June 1, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of The Vacation, p. 1810; June 1, 2007, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Corps of the Bare-boned Plane, p. 55.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1989, Betsey Hearne, review of An Occasional Cow, p. 225: October, 1990, Deborah Stevenson, review of No More Cornflakes, p. 31; November, 1994, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Happy Yellow Car, p. 89; February, 1999, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Trolls, p. 193; March, 2001, Deborah Stevenson, review of Everything on a Waffle, p. 263.

Horn Book, January-February, 1991, Nancy Vasilakis, review of No More Cornflakes, p. 69; January, 1997, Margaret A. Bush, review of When the Circus Came to Town, p. 57; July, 1999, Christine Heppermann, review of The Trolls, p. 466; May, 2001, Sarah Ellis, review of Everything on a Waffle, p. 326; January-February, 2002, Cathryn M. Mercier, review of Everything on a Waffle, p. 40; September-October, Joanna Rudge Long, review of The Pepins and Their Problems, p. 586; July-August, 2005, Vicky Smith, review of The Vacation, p. 469; September-October, 2007, Vicky Smith, review of The Corps of the Bare-boned Plane, p. 579.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1989, review of An Occasional Cow, p. 547; September 15, 1994, review of The Happy Yellow Car, p. 1274; February 15, 2001, review of Everything on a Waffle, p. 259; December 1, 2003, review of The Canning Season, p. 1403; July 15, 2004, review of The Pepins and Their Problems, p. 687; July 15, 2005, review of The Vacation, p. 791; July 15, 2007, review of The Corps of the Bare-boned Plane.

Kliatt, July, 2005, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of The Vacation, p. 11; July, 2007, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Corps of the Bare-boned Plane, p. 16.

Maclean's, February 4, 2002, "The Perils of Primrose," p. 62.

Publishers Weekly, July 25, 1994, review of The Happy Yellow Car, p. 56; September 16, 1996, review of When the Circus Came to Town, p. 84; February 8, 1999, review of The Trolls, p. 214; April 9, 2001, review of Everything on a Waffle, p. 75; June 9, 2003, review of The Canning Season, p. 53; June 28, 2004, review of The Pepins and Their Problems, p. 50; June 27, 2005, review of The Vacation, p. 64; August 27, 2007, review of The Corps of the Bare-boned Plane, p. 91; August 21, 2008, Kit Alderdice, interview with Horvath.

Resource Links, October, 2003, Heather Empey, review of The Canning Season, p. 35; February, 2006, Linda Irvine, review of The Vacation, p. 23; February, 2008, Eva Wilson, review of The Corps of the Bare-boned Plane, p. 30.

School Library Journal, June, 1989, David Gale, review of An Occasional Cow, p. 106; September, 1994, Virginia Golodetz, review of The Happy Yellow Car, pp. 216, 218; December, 1996, Carrie A. Guarria, review of When the Circus Came to Town, p. 122; April, 1999, Christy Norris Blanchette, review of The Trolls, pp. 97, 99; April, 2001, Steven Engelfried, review of Everything on a Waffle, p. 144; August, 2004, Steven Engelfried, review of The Pepins and Their Problems, p. 124; August, 2005, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of The Vacation, p. 129; September, 2007, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of The Corps of the Bare-boned Plane, p. 198.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1994, Becky Kornman, review of The Happy Yellow Car, p. 274.

ONLINE

Macmillan Web site,http://us.macmillan.com/ (September 30, 2008), "Polly Horvath."

Polly Horvath Home Page,http://www.pollyhorvath.com (September 30, 2008).

Scholastic Web site,http://www2.scholastic.com/ (September 30, 2008), "Polly Horvath."

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