Vande Velde, Vivian 1951-

views updated

VANDE VELDE, Vivian 1951-

PERSONAL: Born June 18, 1951, in New York, NY; daughter of Pasquale (a linotype operator) and Marcelle (Giglio) Brucato; married Jim Vande Velde (a computer analyst), April 20, 1974; children: Elizabeth. Education: Attended State University of New York at Brockport, 1969-70, and Rochester Business Institute, 1970-71. Religion: Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, needlecrafts, "quiet family things."

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Harcourt Brace, 525 B Street, Suite 1900, San Diego, CA 92101.

CAREER: Writer.

MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Rochester Area Children's Writers and Illustrators.

AWARDS, HONORS: Child Study Association Book of the Year, 1986, Bro-Dart Foundation Elementary School Library Collection, International Reading Association (IRA) List, National Council of Teachers of English Notable Trade Books in the Language Arts, and the New York Public Library Children's Books 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, all for A Hidden Magic; Author of the Month Award, Highlights for Children, 1988; "Pick of the Lists" citation, American Booksellers Association (ABA), "Best Book for Young Adults" and "Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers" citations, American Library Association (ALA), "Popular Paperback for Young Adults" citation, Young Adult Library Services Association, Blue Ribbon Book award, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, and Nevada Young Readers award, 1998, all for Companions of the Night; "Quick Pick" and "Recommended Books for the Reluctant Young Adult Reader" citations, ALA, Junior Library Guild Selection, New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age, and Texas Lone Star reading list citation, Texas Library Association, all for Dragon's Bait; Junior Guild Selection for A Well-Timed Enchantment; "Best Book for Young Adults" and "Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers" citations, ALA, "Young Adult's Choice" citation, IRA, and winner of "Tellable" stories, 1996, all for Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird; "Quick Pick" citation, ALA, for Curses, Inc.; "Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers" citation, ALA, 1999, for Ghost of a Hanged Man; Edgar Allan Poe Award for best young adult mystery, 2000, for Never Trust a Dead Man; Anne Spencer Lindbergh Prize in Children's Literature, 2001/2002, and New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age, 2003, both for Heir Apparent; Black-Eyed Susan Award (Maryland), 2002, for There's a Dead Person Following My Sister Around; and Volunteer State Book Award (Tennessee), 2002, for Smart Dog.


Once Upon a Test: Three Light Tales of Love, illustrated by Diane Dawson Hearn, A. Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1984.

A Hidden Magic, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, Crown (New York, NY), 1985.

A Well-Timed Enchantment, Crown (New York, NY), 1990.

User Unfriendly, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1991.

Dragon's Bait, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1992.

Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995.

Companions of the Night, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995.

Curses, Inc., Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1997.

The Conjurer Princess, HarperPrism (New York, NY), 1997.

The Changeling Prince, HarperPrism (New York, NY), 1998.

Ghost of a Hanged Man, Marshall Cavendish (Tarrytown, NY), 1998.

A Coming Evil, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.

Smart Dog, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1998.

Spellbound, Science Fiction Book Club (New York, NY), 1998.

Never Trust a Dead Man, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1999.

There's a Dead Person Following My Sister Around, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1999.

Magic Can Be Murder, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 2000.

Troll Teacher, illustrated by Mary Jane Auch, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.

Alison, Who Went Away, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.

Being Dead: Stories, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 2001.

Heir Apparent, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 2002.

Wizard at Work, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 2003.

Witch's Wishes, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor of short stories to Cricket, Disney Adventures, Electric Company, Highlights for Children, Kid City, School, Storyworks, and Young American. Contributor to anthologies, including A Wizard's Dozen, A Nightmare's Dozen, Girls to the Rescue, and several Bruce Coville anthologies.

SIDELIGHTS: Vivian Vande Velde is the author of two dozen books for young readers that blend fantasy with mystery elements, or that turn fairy tales on their heads with fresh new perspectives and with humorous touches. Vande Velde once commented that she has been "making up stories" since she was a child just to please herself. She recalled, "most of my stories were a mish-mash; I might take part of the Cinderella story here, part of the legend of Ivanhoe there, throw in a dash of Superman." Now that Vande Velde makes her career as a writer, and her stories are entertaining others as well, she still has fun with the characters and plots of well-known tales. Offbeat, fantastic, and even sarcastic, Vande Velde's books contain intriguing, suspenseful situations and provocative messages that eschew traditional themes and story-types. Christy Tyson of Voice of Youth Advocates noted that Vande Velde's early books Dragon's Bait and User Unfriendly "have been very popular." Vande Velde has gone on to write about vampires in Companions of the Night, to take a new look at fairy tales in Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird and The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, to tell of a sixteen-year-old who turns to magic to help find her kidnapped sister in The Conjurer Princess, to play with the conventions of the Western in The Ghost of the a Hanged Man, to create magical mysteries in Never Trust a Dead Man and Magic Can Be Murder, and even to tackle a realistic novel in Alison, Who Went Away. But whatever genre the inventive Vande Velde is writing in, one thing remains the same: the high entertainment value of her books.

Born in New York City in 1951, Vande Velde grew up in New York state, enjoying reading and story-making. Such skills, however, did not lead to a successful time in school, where she was a self-confessed average student, even in English classes. Graduating from high school, she moved on to college for a year, but quit when she had exhausted all the literature course offerings she was interested in. Thereafter she attended a business school and trained as a secretary. Married in 1974, Vande Velde soon was a stay-at-home mom with a daughter, and this is when she began thinking of making a career in writing, enrolling in a writing course. Feedback from that class finally directed her to fantasy writing.

One of Vande Velde's early books exemplifies her talent for transforming old tales into new ones. According to Karen P. Smith of School Library Journal, A Hidden Magic is a "delightful parody of the classic fairy tale genre." Vande Velde's princess, instead of being beautiful, is plain. Her handsome prince is far from noble—he's spoiled and vain. Moreover, the princess in the story does not have to be saved by a prince—she saves him. At the close of the story, the princess refuses to marry the prince. Readers may be surprised by the man she prefers. "[Vande] Velde's approach remains fresh and definitely amusing," remarked Smith.

It was another five years before Vande Velde published her next book, A Well-Timed Enchantment, about a teenage girl sent back in time by T-shirtwearing elves after she has accidentally messed up history by dropping her digital watch into a wishing well. Her next novel, User Unfriendly, in the words of Diane G. Yates of Voice of Youth Advocates, contains an "interesting premise . . . nicely developed with some lively fights and mildly scary situations." The story takes place in cyberspace and a teenager's basement. After Arvin's friend pirates an interactive computer game, he assures Arvin and five other high school pals that it's fine to use. But Arvin, his friends, and even his mother have no idea that playing the game without anyone monitoring their play will be truly dangerous. As they begin to play the game, they discover that there are glitches and holes in the program. They find themselves playing the roles of medieval characters and fighting for survival, with no hope of quitting the game before they finish their quest. To make matters worse, Arvin's mother begins to display terrifying symptoms of an unknown illness. Arvin has to win the game by facing orcs and wolves and rescuing a princess who has been kidnapped. According to a Kirkus Reviews critic, the "adventures" in this book "are vivid and diverting." A reviewer commented in Publishers Weekly that some readers "will not be able to put this swashbuckler down."

Alys, the protagonist in Dragon's Bait, feels ready to die after she has been accused and condemned for witchcraft. Her punishment is to be devoured by a dragon, and she is tied up on a hill to await her fate. There is no one who can save Alys (her father died when he heard the sentence placed upon her), and she thinks her life is over. But instead of eating her, the dragon decides to help her. Moreover, the dragon, Selendrile, is only a part-time dragon. He can assume human form, and by doing so, he helps Alys get back at those who falsely accused her. As a Publishers Weekly reviewer asserted, this novel with a "gently feminist slant" is also a "gripping adventure" which "probes the issues associated with revenge." If, as a Kirkus Reviews critic noted, the novel's subtexts include the notion that "revenge is not nearly as sweet as advertised," readers won't find easy answers in this book: "lessons—if any—are a little hard to follow."

While, according to Kim Carter of Voice of Youth Advocates, the dragon is the "only truly unusual element" in Dragon's Bait, the fantastic element in Companions of the Night is a handsome college-student vampire. Kerry, just sixteen and with a driver's permit instead of license, drives out alone late at night to the laundromat to recover her little brother's toy bear. Yet Kerry finds something else: Ethan, a young man thought to be a vampire, about to be killed by a mob. When Kerry saves him, she is accused of being a vampire herself; when she returns home, she finds that her father and brother have been kidnapped by the vampire hunters. Eventually, Kerry learns that Ethan really is a vampire, but she asks him to help her find her family anyway. Despite the fact that she doesn't quite know whether to fear him or trust him, Kerry finds herself attracted to Ethan. As Deborah Stevenson wrote in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, the novel is "an intellectual adventure more than a sensual one, its challenges more cerebral than hormonal....It's a freshly written thriller, an offbeat love story, an engaging twist on the vampire novel, and an exciting tale of moral complexity." "Companions of the Night should attract a loyal following of its own," concluded Marilyn Makowski of School Library Journal.

Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird consists of thirteen familiar folktales, revised in "both amusing and touching versions," as Ann A. Flowers of Horn Book explained. In one story, Rumpelstiltskin is a young, handsome elf. In another, Hansel and Gretel are murderers. The wolf in the story of Little Red Riding Hood is Granny's friend, the princess in the story of the Princess and the Pea requests more mattresses on her own, and the beauty in the Beauty and the Beast story is not pleased with the Beast's human appearance. "[Vande] Velde challenges readers' notions of good, bad, and ugly," observed Luann Toth in School Library Journal. A Kirkus Reviews critic remarked that the work is "Terrific fun." Vande Velde returned to fairy tales with her year 2000 The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, a book that presents six variations on that tale. Susan L. Rogers, writing in School Library Journal, found this offering to be an "interesting experiment." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly had stronger praise, writing that "Vande Velde's takes on this fairy tale are always humorous and often heartwarming."

In her later fantasy novels, Vande Velde has taken her penchant for unusual situations and combined it with in-depth examinations of moral issues. The Conjurer Princess, for instance, begins as a standard adventure when sixteen-year-old Lylene determines to rescue her older sister from the man who kidnapped her and murdered her fiancé on their wedding day. Lylene first turns to magic to aid her on her quest, promising to work for a wizard as payment for magical training. When magic proves less helpful than she had hoped, Lylene enlists the aid of two soldiers who turn out to be violent mercenaries. Many people have been hurt by the time Lylene finds her sister, only to realize that perhaps her rescue attempt was ill-advised in the first place. As Diane G. Yates remarked in Voice of Youth Advocates, "Vande Velde packs a lot into an enjoyable, short, quickly read narrative," including a portrayal of Lylene's growing maturity.

The 1998 novel The Changeling Prince likewise illuminates issues of fate and responsibility. Weiland has lived an uneasy existence since the sinister sorceress Daria transformed him from a wolf cub into a human child. He is only one of a group of similarly changed people who live their lives in fear of when Daria might suddenly become angry and return them to their animal forms. When Daria decides to leave her fortress and move into a town, Weiland has a new adjustment to make. He learns to live among the townspeople and eventually makes a friend, the thief Shile. As Daria's power becomes more evil, Weiland finally must make a stand. Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Nancy Eaton found the protagonist compelling, writing that "Weiland's detailed agonies of indecision evoke compassion in the reader: everything could go either way; there are no right choices." The result, the critic concluded, is a work that "raises thoughtful questions about individual responsibility."

In Ghost of a Hanged Man, the author combines an element of the supernatural with yet another genre, the Western. The infamous criminal Jake Barnette is sentenced to hang in the summer of 1877, and no one really takes it seriously when he swears in court he will revenge himself against those responsible for his punishment. The next spring, however, floods spill through the town, forcing several coffins—including Barnette's—to emerge from the inundated cemetery. When the foreman of Barnette's jury and the judge who presided at the trial suddenly die, the young son of the town sheriff knows he must take action before his family is destroyed. "This unsettling novel has many appealing elements," Carrie Schadle noted in School Library Journal, including the sinister ghost, Old West setting, and the scared yet brave protagonists. Janice M. Del Negro likewise found the "colorful characters" and "easy immediacy" of the dialogue appealing, and concluded in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that "Vande Velde has a knack for creepy understatement that effectively delivers unexpected chills, and the climax . . . brings the book to its shuddery, satisfying conclusion."

A murder mystery also figures in 1999's Never Trust a Dead Man, albeit one with a more lighthearted approach. Seventeen-year-old Selwyn has been wrongly convicted of murder by his medieval village, and has been sentenced to be entombed alive in the burial cave of his supposed victim, Farold. Selwyn has almost resigned himself to his fate when the imperious witch Elswyth enters the cave while looking for spell components. She makes Selwyn a bargain: she will release him from the cave and give him one week to find the real killers in exchange for years of his service. Elswyth complicates the deal by resurrecting the spirit of the annoying Farold as a bat and disguising Selwyn as a beautiful girl. As this unlikely duo of sleuths searches for the answer, many mishaps and humorous truths follow in their wake, making for an entertaining adventure. "Favoring the comic over the macabre," Kitty Flynn wrote in Horn Book, "Vande Velde offers a funny and imaginative murder mystery that intrigues as much as it entertains." A Kirkus Reviews critic similarly hailed the novel, writing that "the sympathetic hero, original humor, sharp dialogue, and surprising plot twists make this read universally appealing and difficult to put down."

Vande Velde's first picture book, Troll Teacher, had its start with a seed of truth and then with the author asking herself 'But what if?' "During the summer between second grade and third," Vande Velde once explained, "my daughter was talking with a friend who was trying to make her nervous about her upcoming teacher. 'Oooh, I've heard about her,' the friend said (though she lived in a town an hour and a half away). 'Isn't she the one who gives three hours of homework every night? And when girls have long hair, she likes to pull on their hair and make them cry.' I started thinking: What if there really was a teacher that was this bad? Or worse? Or—worst of all—what if there was a teacher who wasn't even human?" From that premise Vande Velde wrote Troll Teacher as a short story, and it became a picture book after her friend, writer-illustrator M. J. Auch, created her own illustrations for the story and sent it to her publisher. The result proved to be a successful collaborative effort. Reviewing the picture book in Booklist, Marta Segal noted, "As in her young adult novels, Vande Velde vividly captures a young person's feelings about being the only one in the world who really understands what's going on."

With Magic Can Be Murder, Vande Velde "throws murder, witchcraft, and romance into the brew," according to Laura Glaser in School Library Journal. Nola and her witch mother live in something of a medieval netherworld, traveling from town to town to work. Nola manages to use her powers to good effect, solving a murder, saving herself and her mother, and even finding true love in a book that is, according to Glaser, "most likely to cast a spell on Vande Velde's fans." Booklist's Helen Rosenberg praised this "lighthearted mystery," concluding that kids "who like mystery and fantasy fans . . . will like this."

Mysteries of a more serious nature are presented in Alison, Who Went Away. Fourteen-year-old Susan, or Sibyl as she has taken to calling herself, "lives in the shadow of her older sister, Alison," as Booklist's Frances Bradburn pointed out. Missing, Alison is something of an enigma to her sister and readers alike. While Susan thinks her rebellious sister has merely run away, the reader begins to believe otherwise, for we learn that Susan's is a "family in denial," as Betty S. Evans noted in School Library Journal. Things come to a climax in a student play in which Susan acts. Vande Velde's first venture into realistic fiction, Alison, Who Went Away is a "high-school story laced with a dose of sadness and mystery," according to Bradburn.

Being Dead is a collection of seven "deliciously creepy tales," according to Miranda Doyle in School Library Journal. Doyle went on to note that most of the tales "deal with everyday teens in seemingly ordinary situations." Once lulled by the commonplace, the reader will be all the more shocked when things turn decidedly "gruesome," as Doyle further mentioned. A critic for Kirkus Reviews concluded that Vande Velde "again chills, charms, moves and startles with her customary effectiveness." Similarly, GraceAnne A. De-Candido, writing in Booklist, praised Vande Velde's "sure hand," and went on to prophesy that "these spirits are destined to find their audience." And Horn Book's Anita L. Burkam, noted that humor is the furthest thing from Vande Velde's mind in these stories. "Long known for stories that leaven supernatural elements with comedy," Burkam wrote, "Vande Velde here forgoes the humor to present a set of ghost stories for readers who enjoy being really scared."

In her 2002 novel, Heir Apparent, Vande Velde tells a "plausible, suspenseful" story, according to a contributor for Kirkus Reviews, of a girl in the near future who becomes trapped in a total immersion virtual reality game. Giannine becomes stranded in a game of kings and intrigue called "Heir Apparent" after some antifantasy protestors purposely damaged the equipment; now if she does not become successor to the medieval throne within three days, her brain could suffer permanent damage. The critic for Kirkus Reviews added that the book is "riveting reading for experienced gamers and tyros alike." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly also had praise for the title, noting that "hilarious characters . . . plus fantastical elements . . . will spur readers on toward the satisfying conclusion." Similarly, Linda Miles, writing in School Library Journal, commented that "all of the elements of a good fantasy are present in this adventure." Miles further lauded the book as a "unique combination of futuristic and medieval themes."

As fantastic as Vande Velde's stories are, readers may not be surprised to learn that her "stories aren't usually based on things that really happened." Yet facing dragons that turn into humans and vampires in a small New York town seems to do wonders for building character. Vande Velde once commented that her stories, based "on real feelings," force her characters to meet unexpected challenges. "Often the people in my stories are uncomfortable with the way they look, or they feel clumsy, or they find themselves having to take charge in a situation for which they are totally unprepared." She continued, "Most of my characters are quite surprised to find—by the story's end—that they can cope after all." A contributor for The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales summed up Vande Velde's achievement in much of her fiction: "Though shocking, the tales are told in a light comic vein aimed at exposing social contradictions in such a manner that young adults can easily grasp the targets of criticism."



Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, edited by Jack Zipes, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000, p. 534.

Reginald, Robert, Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, 1975-1991, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.


Booklist, April 1, 1995, p. 1389; September 1, 1998, p. 121; November 15, 1998, Chris Sherman, review or Ghost of a Hanged Man, p. 591; April 1, 1999, Holly Koelling, review of Never Trust a Dead Man, p. 1402; September 1, 1999, Candace Smith, review of There's a Dead Person Following My Sister Around, p. 124; November 15, 2000, Marta Segal, review of Troll Teacher, p. 650; December 15, 2000, Helen Rosenberg, review of Magic Can Be Murder, p. 809; April 1, 2001, Frances Bradburn, review of Alison, Who Went Away, p. 1459; September 1, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Being Dead, p. 97; February 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Heir Apparent, p. 982; April 15, 2003, GraceAnne A. De-Candido, review of Wizard at Work, p. 1466.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 1995, Deborah Stevenson, review of Companions of the Night, pp. 373-374; October, 1998, Deborah Stevenson, review of Ghost of a Hanged Man, p. 75; October, 1999, Janice M. Del Negro, review of There's a Dead Person Following My Sister Around, p. 72; February, 2001, Janice M. Del Negro, review of The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, p. 239; September, 2001, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Being Dead, p. 29.

Horn Book, March-April, 1996, Ann A. Flowers, review of Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird, pp. 201-202; May-June, 1998, Kitty Flynn, review of Never Trust a Dead Man, pp. 339-340; November-December, 1998, Kitty Flynn, review of Ghost of a Hanged Man, p. 742; November-December, 2001, Anita L. Burkam, review of Being Dead, p. 758.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1991, review of User Unfriendly, p. 1017; August 1, 1992, review of Dragon's Bait, p. 994; August 1, 1995, review ofTales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird, p. 1118; October 15, 1998, review of A Coming Evil, p. 1539; March 15, 1999, review of Never Trust a Dead Man; August 1, 2001, review of Being Dead, p. 1133; March 1, 2003, review of Wizard at Work, p. 401.

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June, 1996, p. 27; August, 1999, Michelle West, review of Never Trust a Dead Man, p. 45; March, 2002, Michelle West, review of Being Dead, pp. 34-39.

New York Times Book Review, March 9, 2003, review of Heir Apparent, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly, August 23, 1991, review of UserUnfriendly, pp. 63-64; July 27, 1992, review of Dragon's Bait, p. 63; August 10, 1998, review of Smart Dog, p. 389; November 9, 1998, review of Ghost of a Hanged Man, p. 77; August 30, 1999, review of There's a Dead Person Following My Sister Around, p. 85; October 2, 2000, review of Magic Can Be Murder, p. 82, review of The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, p. 82; February 5, 2001, review of Alison, Who Went Away, p. 89; September 16, 2002, review of Heir Apparent, p. 69.

School Library Journal, December, 1985, Karen P. Smith, review of A Hidden Magic, pp. 95-96; September, 1992, p. 261; May, 1995, Marilyn Makowski, review of Companions of the Night, pp. 123-124; January, 1996, Luann Toth, review of Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird, p. 126; October, 1998, Carrie Schadle, review of Ghost of a Hanged Man, p. 147; November, 1998, p. 131; May, 1999, Laura Glaser, review of Never Trust a Dead Man, p. 131; September, 1999, Timothy Capehart, review of There's a Dead Person Following My Sister Around, pp. 229-230; October, 2000, Gay Lynn Van Vleck, review of Troll Teacher, p. 140; November, 2000, Laura Glaser, review of Magic Can Be Murder, p. 164, Susan L. Rogers, review of The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, p. 177; April, 2001, Betty S. Evans, review of Alison, Who Went Away, p. 151; September, 2001, Miranda Doyle, review of Being Dead, p. 234; October, 2002, Lana Miles, review of Heir Apparent, p. 174.

Science Fiction Chronicle, October, 1995, p. 50.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1991, Diane G. Yates, review of User Unfriendly, p. 327; April, 1993, Kim Carter, review of Dragon's Bait, p. 48; October, 1995, Christy Tyson, review of Companions of the Night, pp. 238-239; February, 1998, Diane G. Yates, review of The Conjurer Princess, pp. 396-397 June, 1998, Nancy Eaton, review of The Changeling Prince, pp. 134, 136; February, 1998, review of The Conjurer Princess, p. 396.


Vivian Vande Velde—All Books, (March 14, 2003).

About this article

Vande Velde, Vivian 1951-

Updated About content Print Article