12 Fascinating Facts About S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders

istock (blank book) / dell (cover)
istock (blank book) / dell (cover)

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton’s 1967 coming-of-age novel, is a staple for young readers. Even if you’ve already delved into Ponyboy’s tumultuous adolescence, you can probably still learn something about the young adult classic.

1. S. E. HINTON WROTE THE OUTSIDERS WHILE SHE WAS STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL.

Susan Eloise Hinton was only 15 when she began writing the novel and was just 17 when it was first published. Hinton felt compelled to write after she became frustrated with the lack of relatable pop culture being produced for teenagers at the time. "I'd wanted to read books that showed teenagers outside the life of ‘Mary Jane went to the prom,’" Hinton explained a 1981 interview with Seventeen. "When I couldn't find any, I decided to write one myself. I created a world with no adult authority figures, where kids lived by their own rules.”

2. RIVAL GANGS AT HINTON’S OWN HIGH SCHOOL INSPIRED THE SOCS AND THE GREASERS.

The tense divide between the upper class “Socs” (pronounced “soashes,” as in “social”) and the lower class “Greasers” at Hinton's high school was so bitter that the gangs had to enter through separate doors. Although Hinton was neither a greaser nor a Soc, the book is written from the point of view of the greaser Ponyboy in an effort to humanize the gang. However, Hinton also refrains from vilifying the Socs, a choice that reflected her belief that things are “rough all over.”

3. HINTON DIDN’T PLAN TO PUBLISH THE NOVEL.

Hinton originally wrote The Outsiders primarily for herself, but the mother of one of her friends read a draft and thought that the book deserved a wider audience. The friend’s mother contacted an agent in New York, and soon Viking Press signed Hinton for a $1000 advance.

4. HINTON USED HER INITIALS TO AVOID UNFAIR GENDER BIAS.

Viking suggested that Hinton use her initials instead of her full name due to concerns that readers and reviewers alike would automatically dismiss a book about teenage boys written by a teenage girl. The strategy worked, and as Hinton explains on her website, “I found I liked the privacy of having a ‘public’ name and a private one, so it has worked out fine."

5. THERE WAS A REASON HINTON WROTE FOR BOYS.

What drove Hinton to write from a male point of view in the first place? As she explains on her website, the initial choice reflected her own sensibility, but it was also strategic. “I started using male characters just because it was easiest. [I] was a tomboy, most of my close friends were boys, and I figured nobody would believe a girl would know anything about my subject matter. I have kept on using male characters because (1) boys have fewer books written for them, (2) girls will read boys' books, boys usually won't read girls', and (3) it is still the easiest for me.”

6. HINTON’S FIRST ROYALTY CHECK WAS FOR JUST $10.

Although The Outsiders would eventually become a huge success, it didn’t fly out of the gate. The book nearly went out of print before teachers and librarians recognized how much it resonated with young readers. To date, the book has sold more than 14 million copies.

7. THE OUTSIDERS HELPED CHANGE THE WAY SCHOOLS TAUGHT LITERATURE.

The emergence of an authentic, relatable novel helped teachers reach students who had grown bored with the use of traditional textbooks in English classes. “I remember going to American Library Association conferences and they were clamoring for something different. We realized there was a real market for books such as The Outsiders," Hinton’s longtime friend Ron Beuhl told USA Today in 2007.

8. FOLLOWING UP ON SUCH A HIT WAS HARD.

The success of The Outsiders put a lot of pressure on Hinton, and the stress initially inhibited her progress on a follow-up book. To combat this writer’s block, her then-boyfriend (and eventual husband) suggested that Hinton write just two pages a day. If she could show him that, he would take her out on a date that evening. It must have worked, because her next novel, That Was Then, This is Now, was released in 1971.

9. HINTON’S FANS CONVINCED FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA TO FILM THE NOVEL.

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 big screen adaptation helped spark the “Brat Pack” genre of the 1980s and jumpstarted the careers of “up-and-comers” like C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, and Diane Lane. But without Hinton’s passionate fans, the director might not have found the project at all. Coppola started considering filming The Outsiders after California high school students sent him a petition nominating him as the perfect director to adapt their favorite novel.

A meeting with Hinton sealed the deal for Coppola. ''When I met Susie it was confirmed to me that she was not just a young people's novelist, but a real American novelist,” the director said in a 1983 interview.

10. HINTON MAKES A CAMEO IN THE FILM.

Although Hinton did not write the screenplay, she remained closely involved in the production by serving as a location scout and even making a small cameo as a nurse. Coppola was so taken with Hinton’s charming storytelling that during filming of The Outsiders he and Hinton collaborated on an adapted screenplay for one of her other books, Rumble Fish. In the aforementioned 1983 interview, Coppola praised the author’s involvement: “Susie was a permanent member of the company. My experience with her made me realize that the notion of having a writer on the set makes a lot of sense.''

11. IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY CHALLENGED BOOKS OF THE 20TH CENTURY.

Controversial at the time of its publication for its frank portrayal of gang violence, delinquency, underage drinking and smoking, and strong language, the book continues to be challenged. It was ranked #38 on the American Library Association’s “Top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of the 90s,” and has even been banned in some schools. Thankfully, the book also has become a part of many schools’ curricula, ensuring that students will be staying gold with Ponyboy for years to come.

12. HINTON EXPLAINED ON TWITTER WHY JOHNNY AND DALLY HAD TO DIE.

The novel's climax centers on the tragic deaths of Johnny and Dally, two sympathetic Greasers caught up in the gang drama. When asked by a fan on Twitter why they had to die, Hinton showed no mercy.

8 Facts About Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein was a multi-talented children’s author, comic artist, poet, playwright, and songwriter, and above all else, a rule-breaker. From The Giving Tree to Where the Sidewalk Ends, his titles are beloved by children and adults alike. At the time they were written, though, they defied common notions about what a "children’s" story could and should be. This isn’t all that surprising, considering that the Chicago-born author, who passed away in 1999, led a pretty unconventional life. Here are eight things you might not know about him.

1. One of Shel Silverstein's first jobs was selling hot dogs in Chicago.

Shel Silverstein didn’t always want to be a writer, or even a cartoonist or songwriter. His first love was baseball. "When I was a kid—12, 14, around there—I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls," he once said in an interview. "But I couldn’t play ball, I couldn’t dance. Luckily, the girls didn’t want me; not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write.” The closest he came to his MLB dream was when he landed a stint at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, selling hot dogs to White Sox fans.

2. Silverstein never finished college.

Silverstein was expelled from one school (the University of Illinois) and dropped out of another (the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Finally, he managed to get through three years of the English program at Chicago's Roosevelt University, but his studies came to an abrupt end when he was drafted in 1953.

3. Silverstein was a Korean War veteran.

In the 1950s, Silverstein was drafted into the U.S. armed service. While he was stationed in Korea and Japan, he also worked as a cartoonist for the military publication Stars and Stripes. It was his first big cartooning gig. "For a guy of my age and with my limited experience to suddenly have to turn out cartoons on a day-to-day deadline deadline, the job was enormous,'' Silverstein told Stars and Stripes in a 1969 interview.

4. Silverstein worked for Playboy magazine and was Part of Hugh Hefner's inner circle.

That’s right: the lovable children’s author was on Playboy’s payroll for many years. He started drawing comics for the men’s magazine in the 1950s and ended up becoming close friends with Hugh Hefner. In fact, he often spent weeks or even months at the Playboy Mansion, where he wrote some of his books. His cartoons for the magazine proved so popular that Playboy sent him around the world to find the humor in places like London, Paris, North Africa, and Moscow during the Cold War. Perhaps his most off-color assignment, though, was visiting a nudist camp in New Jersey. These drawings were compiled in the 2007 book Playboy's Silverstein Around the World, which includes a foreword from Hefner.

5. Silverstein wrote Johnny Cash's hit song "A Boy Named Sue."

Few people know that Silverstein was a songwriter, too. One of his biggest hits was the comical tale of a boy who learned how to defend himself after being relentlessly bullied for his feminine-sounding name, Sue. The song was popularized by Johnny Cash and ended up being his top-selling single, while Silverstein was awarded a Grammy for Best Country Song. You can watch Silverstein strumming the guitar and shouting the lyrics alongside Cash on The Johnny Cash Show in the video above. Silverstein also wrote a follow-up song from the dad’s point of view, The Father of a Boy Named Sue, but it didn't take off the way the original did.

6. Silverstein is in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Three years after his death, Silverstein was inducted posthumously into this exclusive society of songwriters. He wrote more than 800 songs throughout his career, some of which were quite raunchy. But his best-known songs were performed by country legends like Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings. “His compositions were instantly identifiable, filled with elevated wordplay and captivating, humor-filled narratives,” the Nashville Songwriters Foundation said of Silverstein's music.

7. Silverstein wrote the first children’s book to appear on The New York Times best sellerS list.

A Light in the Attic (1981) was the first children’s book to ever make it onto the prestigious New York Times Best Sellers list. It remained there for a whopping 182 weeks, breaking all of the previous records for hardcover books at that time.

8. Silverstein wasn't a fan of happy endings.

If you couldn’t already tell by The Giving Tree’s sad conclusion, Silverstein didn’t believe in giving his stories happy endings. He felt that doing so would alienate his young readers. "The child asks why I don't have this happiness thing you're telling me about, and comes to think when his joy stops that he has failed, that it won't come back,” the author said in a 1978 interview. This turned out to be a risky move, and The Giving Tree was rejected several times for being too sad or too unconventional. Fortunately, after four years of searching for a publisher, it found a home at HarperCollins (then Harper & Row) and has gone on to become one of the best-selling—and most beloved—children's books of all time.

8 Facts About Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Bloomsbury Children's Books via Amazon
Bloomsbury Children's Books via Amazon

Longtime Harry Potter fans who feel like first-years at heart may find it hard to believe, but the books have been around for decades. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series, which follows Harry as he faces Dementors, investigates the mysterious Sirius Black, and gets through his third year at Hogwarts.

From Rowling’s writing process to how it changed The New York Times Best Sellers list, here are some facts you should know about the wildly popular book.

1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was J.K. Rowling’s "best writing experience."

In a 2004 interview with USA Today, Rowling described the creation of Prisoner of Azkaban as “the best writing experience I ever had.” This had more to do with where Rowling was at in her professional life than the content of the actual story. By book three, she was successful enough where she didn’t have to worry about finances, but not yet so famous that the she felt the stress of being in the public eye.

2. The Dementors represent depression.

Readers who live with depression may see something familiar in Prisoner of Azkaban’s soul-sucking Dementors. According to the book, “Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself ... soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."

Rowling has stated that she based the Dementor’s effects on her own experiences with depression. "[Depression] is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again," she told The Times in 2000. "The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it's a healthy feeling. It's a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different."

3. Rowling regretted giving Harry the Marauder’s Map.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, the Marauder’s Map is introduced as a way for Harry to track Sirius Black and learn of the survival of Peter Pettigrew. But this plot device proved problematic for Rowling later on this series. In Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, she wrote, “The Marauder’s Map subsequently became something of a bane to its true originator (me), because it allowed Harry a little too much freedom of information.” She went on to say that she sometimes wished she had made Harry lose the map for good in the later books.

4. Rowling was excited to introduce Remus Lupin.

One of the aspects Rowling most enjoyed about writing Prisoner of Azkaban was introducing Remus Lupin. The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and secret werewolf is one of the author's favorite characters in the series, and as she told Barnes & Noble in 1999, “I was looking forward to writing the third book from the start of the first because that's when Professor Lupin appears.”

5. Crookshanks is based on a real cat.

Harry had Hedwig the owl, Ron had his pet rat Scabbers, and in book three, Hermione got a pet of her own: an intelligent half-Kneazle cat named Crookshanks. J.K. Rowling is allergic to cats, and she admits on her website that she prefers dogs, but she does have fond memories of a cat that roamed the London neighborhood where she worked in the 1980s. When writing Crookshanks, she gave him that cat’s haughty attitude and smushed-face appearance.

6. Prisoner of Azkaban was the last Harry Potter book Americans had to wait for.

Harry Potter fans based in America will no doubt remember waiting months after a book’s initial release in England to buy it from their local bookstore. Prisoner of Azkaban was the last Harry Potter book with a staggered publication date: Beginning with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the rest of the books in the series were published in both markets on the same date.

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban broke sales records.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban sold 68,000 copies in the UK within three days of its release, making it the fastest-selling British book of all time in 1999. The book has since gone on to sell more than 65 million copies worldwide and helped make Harry Potter the bestselling book series ever.

8. It changed The New York Times Best Sellers List.

For part of 1999, the first three Harry Potter books—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (which is known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone pretty much everywhere besides America), Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban—occupied the top three slots on The New York Times Best Sellers list. It didn’t stay that way for long, though: Prisoner of Azkaban was the book that pushed the paper to create a separate list just for children’s literature, leaving more room on the original list for books aimed at adults. That’s why Harry Potter is missing from the famous bestsellers roundup during the 2000s, despite dominating book sales at this time.

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