Valerie Mendes (1939-)
British author Valerie Mendes has been writing since the young age of six. Retaining her passion for writing and books while attending college, she graduated to a succession of writing and editing jobs with publishers. After encouragement while working as a commissioning editor and journalist for London publisher Marshall Cavendish during the 1960s, Mendes began to take her own writing seriously, and published her first book for children, Tomasina's First Dance, in 1992. After founding her own editorial consultancy business, she gradually was able to write full time, and has produced such well-received books as Girl in the Attic, Coming of Age, and Lost and Found.
Praising Lost and Found, a young-adult novel that focuses on the connection between three Oxford residents, Philippa Boston wrote in the Oxford Times that Mendes "is a mistress of plot-weaving, skillfully introducing characters at a comfortable speed . . . and never patronizing" her teen readership.Mendes's second published picture book, Look at Me, Grandma!, is the story of a young boy named Jamie, whose grandma has come to watch him while his mother is at the hospital giving birth to a new baby. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described the book as "curious" in that Mendes "combines fantasy elements with a conventional story of a new sibling," while a Kirkus reviewer wrote that the author "nicely weaves together the triumphs of acquiring new skills with new-sibling jitters."
From her beginning in picture books, Mendes moved to writing novels for older readers, and her 2002 title Girl in the Attic, has been followed by several other critically praised titles. Girl in the Attic, finds thirteen-year-old Nathan Fielding none too happy about his newly separated mother's decision to move to Cornwall, a move that separates Nathan from his best friend, Tom, as well as from his father. However, when he discovers a new friend in a girl named Rosalie, he is drawn into her life, as well as into her family's mysteries in a novel that London Daily Telegraph contributor Rebecca Abrams dubbed "beautifully written" and John McLay described in Carousel as "sometimes tense, sometimes atmospheric. . . . a sound read."
Coming of Age also finds a child dealing with a disrupted family and a new location. Sixteen-year-old Amy, who has been traumatized by witnessing her mother's violent accidental death, now reacts to her widowed father's new girlfriend by fleeing to Italy, hoping to reconnect with her mother's memory and the truth about her life. While School Librarian reviewer Anne Harvey noted that Amy's "new-found power and ruthlessness towards her father" is unsettling, the critic nonetheless praised Coming of Age as a "gripping story" containing "exquisite descriptions" of Italy. Also enthusiastic about Mendes' fiction, Kit Spring wrote in the London Observer that the "tantalising tale unfolds in an atmospheric and engaging" fashion. Mendes' fourth novel, The Drowning, also features a sixteen year old, in this case Jenna, whose plans to dance professionally in London are put on hold when a fatal accident tears her Cornish family apart.
Mendes commented to Something about the Author: "People often ask me why I choose to write for children. It's a stony path. When you are trying to get a first novel accepted, you have to be able to withstand fierce criticism and often walls of impenetrable silence from busy publishers. There are no short cuts, no hiding places but—when you get it right—joy that knows no bounds.
"Why do I chose to write for children? My answer always is: I don't choose it, it chooses me. And I feel most blessed that it does."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Carousel, autumn, 2002, John McLey, review of Girl in the Attic.
Childhood Education, summer, 2002, Heather J. B. Artbuckle, review of Look at Me, Grandma!, p. 239.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), January 4, 2003, Rebecca Abrams, review of Girl in the Attic, p. 15.
Entertainment Weekly, April 28, 2000, p. 102.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2001, review of Look at Me, Grandma!, p. 1533.
Observer (London, England), May 25, 2003, Kit Spring, review of Coming of Age.
Oxford Times, July 18, 2003, Philippa Boston, interview with Mendes; June 4, 2004, Philippa Boston, review of Lost and Found.
Publishers Weekly, November 12, 2001, review of Look at Me, Grandma!, p. 59.
School Librarian, autumn, 2003, Anne Harvey, review of Coming of Age.
School Library Journal, December, 2001, Catherine Threadgill, review of Look at Me, Grandma!, p. 106.
Times Educational Supplement, June 25, 2004, Adèle Geras, review of Lost and Found.
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) BiographyValerie Mendes (1939-) Biography - Writings, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Career, Work in Progress