I started writing a blog about one of George Mendoza's books, and while doing so, I ran into a lot of dead ends about who exactly he is/was. So, I am going to share what information I do have.
When was George Mendoza born? I don’t know. I believe it was around 1935. A 1967 dust jacket calls him “young.” This could mean anything, but I take it to mean he was in his early 30’s because I think his first book was And Amedeo Asked, How Does One Become a Man?, a 42 page novella from 1959. So, he was about 24 at that time… So he is possibly turning 76 this year (if he is still alive). In 1955, he was married to Cindi Huber, but they divorced shortly after their son, George Mendoza Jr., was born (he is now a nearly blind artist and athlete and has written about three books). In May of 1971 George Mendoza (Sr) was 36 and he had a 2 year-old daughter. He was re-married by this time and this wife was possibly Nicole Sakora-Mendoza (this is just speculation based on the fact that this name appears in a few credits in his books).
A 1975 dust jacket states that George Mendoza also has written Television and Movie scripts. The only one that I could find was the one he co-wrote in 1978 with Michel Legrand , the ABC Afterschool Special Michel’s Mixed-up Musical Bird (they also wrote the book together). The book was illustrated by DePatie-Freeleng Enterprises Inc (mostly by an illustrator named Yakutis… who I think is Tom Yakutis who died in 2002). One article online states that he wrote/helped create things for Sesame Street, but if he did, credit hasn’t been given.
George Mendoza wrote a ton of books in the late 60’s and during the 70’s (and a few in the 1980s and a couple in the 90’s). Chances are, if you have a lot of “vintage” children’s books from this time period, you have a book or two by him. His works have been illustrated by Mercer Mayer (the rare Gillygoofang and The Crack in the Wall & Other Terribly Weird Tales), Steven Kellogg (GWOT! Horribly Funny Hairticklers), Eric Carle (The Scarecrow Clock), Joelle Boucher (Henri Mouse series), Norman Rockwell (sort of… Mr. Mendoza wrote a lot of books that have his paintings in them like Norman Rockwell’s Americana ABC and the Norman Rockwell Illustrated Cookbook), Peter Parnall (The Inspector), Doris Susan Smith (Need a House? Call Ms. Mouse!), photographer Sheldon Secunda (What I Want to be When I Grow Up featuring Carol Burnett and the Sesame Street Book of Opposites with Zero Mostel), photographer Milton H. Greene (The Marcel Marceau Alphabet Book), Robert Quackenbush (The Scribbler), the hands of Prassana Rao (Shadowplay), and many more.
Let me make a quick note here for the parents of young children… some of Mendoza’s books are controversial because of how graphic they are. I don’t own a lot of his that are in this category (yet), but I know about them from people talking about them. Like any children’s book, read it yourself first. If the head falling off in the book In A Dark, Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Dirk Zimmer (not Mendoza) doesn’t bother you or your children, then most of Mendoza’s stuff probably won’t either… but just be aware of it. Also remember, most kids can deal with more than you may believe, but YOU have control over what goes into their heads. Kids obsess over the oddest things. The previously mentioned Alvin Schwartz book includes the story “The Green Ribbon” and that was one of my biggest “freak out” obsessions as a kid.
GWOT! was George Mendoza’s “first book for children” per the dust jacket. Previously he had written The Hawk is Humming, A Piece of String (illustrated by Norma-Jean Koplin), many articles for Pageant magazine, and a lot more. By 1975, he had published over 100 books…. Probably a lot more from then through now. I have no idea if he is dead or alive. I just know that he was from Long Island (born in New York), he went to the State University of New York Maritime College and Columbia University. He loved boating in the 1950’s and 1960’s and he sailed, by himself, from New York to England on multiple occasions. He has lived in Connecticut (in New York), Paris (France), and many other places. He considers himself a poet, sailor, trout fisherman, and of course a writer. His last two known books were Traffic Jam illustrated by David Stoltz (May 1990) and Were You a Wild Duck, Where Would You Go illustrated by Jane Osborn-Smith (June 1990)… and he was never heard from again. In 1975, when asked he wanted to be when he was a little boy he stated, “An adventurer like Jack London. Now I only want to be a bird with long feathers.” He may have retired, passed away, or became a wild duck and flew away to places he did not reveal in his last book. In August of 2005, George Mendoza was still living in New York and experiencing health problems (per this article about his son).
I don’t know where you are now Mr. Mendoza – a hidden trout stream in a mountain retreat, a bird flying free, sailing uncharted waters, sipping rare coffee in Paris, in the great beyond, at a McDonald's in New York City, or somewhere else – but thank you for your books, your words, and your addition to (warping of? ha ha) children’s minds everywhere.