Monique de Varennes (1947–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Surname pronounced "de-va-REN"; born 1947, in Cincinnati, OH; Ethnicity: "French Canadian." Education: Cornell University, B.A. (literature), 1969; Johns Hopkins University, M.A. (creative writing), 1970.
Office—c/o Author Mail, Random House Children's Books, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Writer. Formerly worked as a teacher and in publishing.
Pushcart Prize for short fiction, 2003, for "Cabeza."
The Sugar Child, illustrated by Leonid Gore, Atheneum Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Bibi and the Sad Ballerina, illustrated by Ana Juan, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor of adult short stories and reviews to periodicals, including Virginia Quarterly Review.
Monique de Varennes told SATA: "If I hadn't gone to boarding school, I probably never would have become a writer, even though my family was full of them. My mother, Madeleine Grandbois, had written a well-received collection of short stories. One of her sisters, Gabrielle Grandbois-Paquin, focused on creative nonfiction. Their oldest brother, Alain Grandbois, was a celebrated French-Canadian poet. But as a small child growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I showed no inclination to follow the family tradition. Although I would gladly lie still for my mother's wonderful bedtime stories, during the day I was always in motion. I
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roared around our neighborhood with the other kids my age, mostly boys, playing cowboys and Indians. I even ran away once with my best friends, who lived next door—not because we were unhappy, but because we wanted to see the world. We were retrieved in the woods not too far from home, dirty, cheerful, and astounded that anyone had been concerned about us.
"When I was five, everything changed. My mother and I moved into a cramped apartment in the city, and she began to work long hours at a department store. A kindly cousin, Lee Thomas, offered to pay my tuition at a nearby convent boarding school so I'd have a safe place to stay during the week. This might seem an odd choice, but my mother and all her sisters and brothers had been boarders at an early age, so it seemed perfectly natural to her. Fortunately, the nuns were not the ruler-wielding, hand-whacking shrews people like to write about. Most of them were lovely. They were also highly spiritual; they seemed to view life as an inconvenient delay between birth and heaven. And I think they saw us girls primarily as souls in training rather than as the itchy, antsy creatures we were. We rose early to go to Mass, walking everywhere in two straight, silent lines, and prayed before, after, and often during our activities. There were so many rules to follow that I was always doing something wrong. I was miserable. There I learned that reading was the perfect escape. Sitting still as a saint, I could travel whole continents, having outrageous adventures everywhere I went.
"Around third grade, I began writing simple little stories. On weekends, when I went home, my mother encouraged me, gently teaching me the rules of storytelling. I didn't write about myself or anyone like me, but the stories I did choose to tell—about a postage stamp forced to deliver a heartbreaking letter, or about a human princess born with a tail—reflected my unhappiness at school. Writing, I discovered, made me feel better, so I kept at it, all the way through my years as a boarder.
"In college I studied literature; later I received my master's degree from the writing seminars at Johns Hopkins University. Although the work I did after graduation revolved around books—I was a teacher briefly, then worked in publishing—I have to admit I didn't do much writing. I was having too much fun. I also began to realize that I'd have to find out a lot more about the world, the world outside books, if I was ever going to write anything worthwhile.
Later, when I married my husband, Tom Cook, and had my two children, Kate and Chris, I always seemed to be too busy to write. Some people can raise six children, holding down a full-time job, and pop out three books a year. Alas, I'm not one of them. But while Kate and Chris were little, I did tell them a lot of stories—some my mother had told me, and others I made up myself. When they were older, I began writing the stories down. My first book, The Sugar Child, comes from a tale passed down through my family; the second, called The Jewel Box Ballerinas, is based on a story I made up years ago for my own ballerina daughter. And the novel I'm working on now, with the support and encouragement of my wonderful editor, Anne Schwartz, stems from the stories I told my children about my years at boarding school. The school in this book is, however, much spookier and more interesting than the one I attended.
"I also write short stories for adults; in 2003, one of them won a Pushcart prize. But the characters that crowd my brain waiting to be written about in these stories aren't the cheeriest group in the world. When I let them loose on paper they tend to behave oddly, and often they come to unhappy ends. That's why I like writing for young people. In my children's stories, the characters may face huge problems. The barriers to their happiness may be high and complex. But even when things don't turn out entirely as they planned, they face the world with resilience and hope."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, December 1, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Sugar Child, p. 659.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2004, review of The Sugar Child, p. 959.
New York Times Book Review, October 17, 2004, review of The Sugar Child, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, December 20, 2004, review of The Sugar Child, p. 58.
School Library Journal, November, 2004, Rachel G. Payne, review of The Sugar Child, p. 96.
Canadian Review of Materials, http://www.umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/ (April 1, 2005), Barbara Taylor, review of The Sugar Child.