Sylvia Waugh (1935–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1935; children: three.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Delacorte Press, Bantam Dell, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Children's book author. Formerly worked as a grammar teacher for seventeen years; retired.
Birmingham Readers and Writers Children's Book Award, Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, Carnegie Award shortlist, Reading Matic Award Top-Ten designation, Parenting magazine, Silver Kiss award (Netherlands), and Children's Books of Distinction designation, Hungry Mind Review, all 1994, all for The Mennyms; Kinderbuchpreis, 2000, for "Mennyms" series.
The Mennyms, Julia MacRae (London, England), 1993, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1994.
Mennyms in the Wilderness, Julia MacRae (London, England), 1994, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.
Mennyms under Siege, Julia MacRae (London, England), 1995, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1996.
Mennyms Alone, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1996.
Mennyms Alive, Julia MacRae (London, England), 1996, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1997.
Space Race, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2000.
Earthborn, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2002.
Who Goes Home?, Bodley Head (London, England), 2003, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2004.
Waugh's books have been translated into Japanese, Polish, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Thai, Hebrew, French, German, Italian, Danish, Swedish, and Spanish.
Work in Progress
An autobiography, titled Bombs and Butterflies.
Although writing has always been a central part of her life, British author Sylvia Waugh began her career as a children's book author in her late forties, while working full-time as a teacher, and her first published book, 1993's The Mennyms, immediately captivated both readers and reviewers. The story of a family of life-size, animated rag dolls who pretend to be human, The Mennyms became the first book in a series focusing on Waugh's imaginative characters. In addition to the "Mennyms" books, Waugh has also authored three novels in the "Ormingat" series, which also focuses on things that are not what they seem: in this case, as one teen discovers in Who Goes Home?, space aliens from the planet Ormingat could be your neighbor, your parent, or even you!
The rag-doll family in Waugh's "Mennyms" books were created by a talented elderly seamstress named Kate Penshaw, and they come magically to life after their creator's death. Now they inhabit an ordinary-looking house, on an ordinary street, in a typical English town, where they go about their business undisturbed. The teenaged dolls Pilbeam and Appleby behave like typical teens, Sir Magnus like a typical grandfather, baby Googles like a typical infant, and Appleby's parents like typical parents. For forty years, in fact, the family has lived at 5 Brocklehurst Grove, London, but because they never age and remain hidden away, each of the Mennyms has become a bit bored in his or her own way. However, boredom changes to anxiety when a letter arrives from Australia announcing that the flat's owner is coming for a visit.
Waugh, who wrote her book because, as she told Entertainment Weekly contributor Lois Alter Mark, "the world is too cynical, too lacking in magic," suddenly found herself a bit of a celebrity when The Mennyms was hailed by critics in both her native England and the United States. In Horn Book Maeve Visser Knoth praised it as "an entertaining story rich in detail and imagination," while also noting the subtleties of Waugh's characters and the fact that "every other detail follows logically" from the fact that the main characters are cloth beings who cannot eat, sleep, or grow old. Praising The Mennyms as a "wonderfully eccentric debut," a Publishers Weekly reviewer cited the book as "good, old-fashioned fantasy at its finest."
The adventures of the Mennyms continue in several other novels. In Mennyms in the Wilderness the dolls find a human friend in Albert Pond, grand nephew of their creator, who arrives in London after being beckoned by the ghost of his great-great-aunt Kate Albert finds that the Mennyms' house is threatened by the construction of a new highway. With his help the dolls make a new home in the country, the dismal Comus House, until the disruption in their home life rights itself and they can return to London again. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Waugh's second novel "just as good as The Mennyms and maybe even better" due to the author's "blend of delicious whimsy and rigorous logic." Noting that the book's fantasy narrative will engage readers, Horn Book contributor Martha V. Parravano also noted that the "Mennyms" books have a deeper side: in Mennyms in the Wilderness, for example, Waugh explores "such issues as prejudice and belonging as well as into the more metaphysical questions of existence." As the five-volume series continues, the dolls are rejoined by the ghostly Aunt Kate, are forced into dormancy when their beloved home is reoccupied by Kate's human descendants, and ultimately return to life and reunite in a new home, where they continue their quiet ways, bringing the popular fantasy series to a comfortable conclusion.
Since completing her "Mennyms" books, Waugh has continued her focus, as Parravano noted, on "what it means to be human by exploring the lives of those who are not." In Space Race, the first installment in her "Ormingat" trilogy, she introduces alien Patrick (Vateelin) and his son Thomas (Tonitheen), who are visiting Earth and living as humans while on a five-year spying mission for their home planet. Living on Earth almost half of his eleven years, Thomas dreads the fact that the family will be sent home soon, but when a tragedy befalls the pair on their way to retrieve their space ship, he ultimately learns to accept his true identity. "Waugh beams out the message that the driving force in the universe is love—no matter what planet you're from," noted Parravano in a Horn Book review of Space Race, while in School Library Journal Susan L. Rogers predicted that "readers will enjoy the exciting plot and fast-moving action" in addition to Waugh's "thoughtful examination of friendship, loyalty, and love."
As the "Ormingat" series continues, other Ormingatrigs are confronted by the prospect of severing their long-term ties with human society. In Earthborn stubborn twelve-year-old Nesta has too much to deal with when she finds out that not only are her parents NOT from Boston (they're from the planet Ormingat), but the whole family is scheduled to blast off for the home planet in only a few days' time. Half-human Jacob, in Who Goes Home?, is put in a more complex situation because of his mixed heritage when the time comes for his Ormingatrig father to leave Earth. In Booklist Carolyn Phelan praised Earthborn as "original and involving," while in Horn Book Parravano wrote that, in ending the trilogy, Waugh creates in Who Goes Home? "a thought-provoking and sometimes heartbreaking exploration of the ties that bind and the ones we can bear to dissolve."
Waugh told SATA: "Before The Mennyms I had already written a children's novel: The Shadow People (unpublished), and before that I was (and still am) an unpublished poet. I have also written many short stories. Writing has been a lifelong interest. My book Bombs and Butterflies (not yet published) contains autobiographical material about my own infancy and the stories I was told about my family, stretching back into the nineteenth century.
"Surprisingly, from the reviews I've read, no one seems to have noticed the clever bit of Who Goes Home? (or perhaps they have and I just don't know about it). Part of the joy in writing that book was taking events from the first two novels in the series and looking at them from a different perspective! Each book does exist independently, but readers of all three should enjoy this connection—I hope!"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, May 1, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of Mennyms in the Wilderness, p. 1576; March 15, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Mennyms under Siege, p. 1264; September 15, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Mennyms Alone, p. 242; September 15, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of Mennyms Alive, p. 236; July, 2000, Michael Cart, review of Space Race, p. 2026; September 1, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Earthborn, p. 125; June, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Who Goes Home?, p. 1457.
Entertainment Weekly, April 8, 1994, Louis Alter Mark, review of The Mennyms, p. 69.
Horn Book, July-August, 1994, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of The Mennyms, p. 456; July-August, 1995, Martha V. Parravano, review of Mennyms in the Wil-derness, p. 462; January-February, 1997, Sarah Guille, review of Mennyms Alone, p. 69; July, 2000, Martha V. Parravano, review of Space Race, p. 469; September-October, 2002, Martha V. Parravano, review of Earthborn, p. 583; March-April, 2004, Martha V. Parravano, review of Who Goes Home?, p. 190.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of Earthborn, p. 1047; March 15, 2004, review of Who Goes Home?, p. 279.
Publishers Weekly, April 4, 1994, review of The Mennyms, p. 81; May 8, 1995, review of Mennyms in the Wilderness, p. 296; May 22, 1995, Kit Alderdice, "From Rags to Riches: British Author Sylvia Waugh Delights in Spinning Stories about a Magical Rag Doll Family," p. 25; August 7, 2000, review of Space Race, p. 96.
School Library Journal, August, 2000, Susan L. Rogers, review of Space Race, p. 190; September, 2002, Eva Mitnick, review of Earthborn, p. 236; June, 2004, Jean Gaffney, review of Who Goes Home?, p. 152.
Fantastic Fiction Web site, http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (May 8, 2006), "Sylvia Waugh."
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