Rees, Douglas 1947–
Rees, Douglas 1947–
PERSONAL: Born October 19, 1947, in Riverside, CA; son of Norman (a career sergeant) and Agnes (a nurse) Rees; married Bonnie Rostonovich (marriage ended, 1977); married; wife's name JoAnn (a librarian); children: Philip Rostonovich. Politics: "Liberal." Religion: "High-church Episcopalian."
AWARDS, HONORS: American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book designation, and Best Books for the Teen Age designation, New York Public Library, both 1999, both for Lightning Time; Best Children's Book of the Year nomination, Bay Area Book Reviewers' Association, 1999, for Lightning Time, and 2003, for Vampire High; Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers citation, ALA, 2004, for Vampire High.
Lightning Time (novel), Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 1997.
Vampire High (novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 2003.
Grandy Thaxter's Helper (picture book), illustrated by S.D. Schindler, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.
Smoking Mirror: An Encounter with Paul Gauguin (novel), Watson-Guptill (New York, NY), 2005.
The Janus Gate: An Encounter with John Singer Sargent (novel), Watson-Guptill (New York, NY), 2006.
Vampire High has been translated into French and German.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Jeannette Claus's Difficult Christmas Eve, a picture book, and Uncle Pirate, an early chapter book, both for Margaret K. McElderry Books; Gideon's Remnant, a novel for young adults about the Spanish-American War; Starbridge, TX, a comic science-fiction story set in West Texas.
SIDELIGHTS: "Until I was six, I wanted to be a fireman," wrote children's book author Douglas Rees on his home page. "Between six and twelve, I wanted to be a paleontologist. When I was twelve, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I still haven't outgrown that." Rees has authored novels for children and young adults as well as a picture book. When not working on his novels, Rees also works as a librarian at teh Rose Garden branch of the San Jose, California, Public Library System.
Rees's first book, Lightning Time, is a novel for young adults about the exploits of notorious abolitionist John Brown, who attacked a U.S. military arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia and helped spark the U.S. Civil War. Narrator Theodore is fourteen when he meets the charismatic Brown, and is drawn into Brown's cause. Theodore's decision to leave his family to follow Brown is a difficult one for the teen, but his convictions strengthen throughout the course of the novel. "Theodore makes a sympathetic narrator," noted Carolyn Phelan in Booklist, while Elizabeth S. Watson wrote in Horn Book that "Rees has created a fine historical novel that explores the complexities of the abolitionist cause."
After Lightning Time Rees decided to explore the horror genre. "I've always wanted to write a horror story," he explained on his home page. "The only horror stories anyone is reading these days involve vampires, and I don't like vampires. All that self-pity and morbid sexuality are annoying. I mean—and I really did think it exactly this way—surely there must be some decent chaps among the vampires. They must go to high school—and suddenly I saw the kids of Vlad Dracul walking silently up and down the marble halls, and I was off and away." Vlad Dracul High School is an elite magnet school attended almost entirely by vampires. When fifteen-year-old Cody transfers there, it is only a matter of time before he figures out who his classmates are. Unlike the other non-blood-sucking teens attending Vlad Dracul, Cody sets out to challenge the school's standards and social hierarchy, determined to be treated like the other students, regardless of his non-vampire status.
"There's barely a false note in this rollicking tale of horror, humor, and light romance," complimented Booklist reviewer Frances Bradburn. A Publishers Weekly critic commented on Rees's "bold, almost hyperbolic humor," while Lauren Adams wrote in Horn Book that the tale is "a light, engaging parable with a reader-pleasing happy ending." Vampire High includes "amusing twists on the fantasy tropes about vampires," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, and Paula Rohrlick noted in Kliatt that "snappy dialogue and the age-old appeal of the vampire make this comedy a winner."
Rees combines two folktale motifs in his picture book Grandy Thaxter's Helper. Set against an early American backdrop—a new setting for the traditional tale—the book tells how Grandy Thaxter outwits Death by explaining that she can only go with him if she gets all her work done. Since it will surely go faster if Death helps, she enlists him in her chores. At the end of the day, Death is far too tired to take Grandy Thaxter away. After two more increasingly exhausting tries, he says he will come back when she is no longer so busy. "Grandy Thaxter's Helper will be a welcome story-time visitor," recommended Kitty Flynn in Horn Book. "For pure entertainment value, this book is hard to beat," agreed a critic for Publishers Weekly. "What makes this rendition of a classic theme interesting, slyly funny, and informative is its Colonial setting," explained Marge Loch-Wouters in School Library Journal, the critic pointing out that each chore of Grandy Thaxter's, such as making soap or mush, includes details from the setting.
Several of Rees's books introduce historical information to readers, among them Smoking Mirror: An Encounter with Paul Gauguin and The Janus Gate: An Encounter with John Singer Sargent. As part of the "Art Encounters" series from publisher Watson-Guptill, these books tell fictional stories that capture moments in the lives of famous artists. Paul Gauguin is the featured artist in Smoking Mirror, the story about fifteen-year-old Joe Sloan who runs away to Tahiti. There, he meets Gauguin and ends up forming a friendship based on mutual need and admiration. The novel gives readers "an intimate peek at Gauguin's creative process," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Ken Marantz, writing in School Arts, commented on the "suspenseful story," while Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg praised Rees for his ability to "weave … biographical facts about a famous artist into a compelling novel." The Janus Gate features portrait painter John Singer Sargent in a fictional supernatural thriller in which the artist must decide whether or not to help the girls who are the subjects of one of his paintings.
On his home page, Rees offered the following advice to young writers: "Just write. Don't worry about the odds against ever getting published. Just do it. The odds are impossible anyway."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Lightning Time, p. 794; August, 2003, Frances Bradburn, review of Vampire High, p. 1973; March 15, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of Smoking Mirror: An Encounter with Paul Gauguin, p. 1285.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1998, review of Lightning Time, p. 173; October, 2004, Timnah Card, review of Grandy Thaxter's Helper, p. 97.
Horn Book, January-February, 1998, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Lightning Time, p. 80; September-October, 2003, Lauren Adams, review of Vampire High, p. 617; November-December, 2004, Kitty Flynn, review of Grandy Thaxter's Helper, p. 700.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2003, review of Vampire High, p. 1129; September 15, 2004, review of Grandy Thaxter's Helper, p. 919; January 1, 2005, review of Smoking Mirror, p. 56.
Kliatt, September, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of Vampire High, p. 11.
Library Media Connection, March 13, 2005, Beth Gutcheon, review of Grandy Thaxter's Helper.
New York Times, March, 2004, review of Vampire High, p. 65.
Publishers Weekly, April 12, 1999, review of Lightning Time, p. 78; August 4, 2003, review of Vampire High, p. 81; September 20, 2004, review of Grandy Thaxter's Helper, p. 61.
School Arts, February, 2005, Ken Marantz, review of Smoking Mirror, p. 55.
School Library Journal, December, 1997, Peggy Morgan, review of Lightning Time, p. 129; November, 2003, Lynn Evarts, review of Vampire High, p. 146; November, 2004, Marge Loch-Wouters, review of Grandy Thaxter's Helper, p. 116; March, 2005, Heather E. Miller, review of Smoking Mirror, p. 217.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1998, review of Lightning Time, p. 47; February, 2004, Jennifer Bromann, review of Vampire High, p. 506; April, 2004, "Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror 2003," p. 14.
Douglas Rees Home Page, http://www.douglasrees.com (March 22, 2006).
Riverside Public Library Web site, http://www.riversideca.gov/library/ (March 22, 2006), interview with Rees.