Author Update: Jane Yolen

Biography quoted from Jane Yolen Official Web Site: “Jane Yolen is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon [Philomel, 1987], Devil’s Arithmetic [Viking, 1988], and How do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? [Scholastic, 2000]. She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century. Jane Yolen’s books and stories have won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award.”

CYN NOTE: publication information added for your ordering convenience.

Your last interview on my site centered on Hippolyta and the Curse of the Amazons (HarperCollins, 2002), and I corresponded with both you and your co-author, Robert J. Harris. That was four years ago. What have been your publication highlights since?

Pay The Piper [Tor/Starscape, 2005] with son Adam [Stemple], a rock ‘n roll fairy tale, which has some movie interest.
The Salem Witch Trials: An Unsolved Mystery from History [Simon & Schuster, 2004] with daughter Heidi Stemple, which teachers say they love.
Fine Feathered Friends [Boyds Mills, 2004] with son Jason Stemple, which was an Honor Book for the 2005 Massachusetts Book Award.
Baby Bear’s Chairs, illustrations by Melissa Sweet [Harcourt, 2005] because it stars a favorite character of mine.
How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?, illustrations by Mark Teague [Scholastic, 2004] because it hit the New York Times bestseller list.

I was particularly taken with your recent release, Soft House, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halprin (Candlewick, 2005). It reminded me of my own childhood, playing with my next-door-neighbor Kathryn. Could you offer some insight into the initial inspiration behind that book and any challenges you faced along its path to publication?

My children used to play Soft House and I first wrote it back 30 years ago. It went to about five editors who said nice things and didn’t buy it. Five years later, I rewrote it, tried again. Same results. Five years on, ditto. Fast forward five years ago–and I sold it to Liz Bicknell at Candlewick who had me rewrite it about seven times and found the ever wonderful Wendy Halperin to illustrate. Since my children all have children of their own, I chose to name the characters after two of them, the only brother-sister pair.

Your latest bestsellers are How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? illustrated by Mark Teague (Scholastic, 2000) and its sequels. I enjoyed reading “How the Book How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Came to Be Written” on the Booksense site. It got me thinking about what makes a book really successful in terms of reaching a broad audience. While a manuscript is in progress and/or production, do you ever have a sense that the book will be a big one in terms of sales?

My editor called it a slam dunk but I have been in the business 40 years and know there is no such thing. Normally I am your high end midlist author. But not this time. She was absolutely right. And has been right on each of the sequels as well.

I’d like to touch briefly on some books from your extensive back list. Armageddon Summer, co-authored by Bruce Coville, (Harcourt, 1998) centers on religion in the context of a millennialist cult. I remember reading it spellbound when first released. Given it’s global and individual impact, why do you think books that examine faith in any context are so rare on mainstream publisher lists? What are the related challenges and opportunities?

When books were sold mainly to schools, books with faith at the core were hard sells. At first my editor at Scholastic wanted the book, but the bookclub vetoed it on religious grounds so she declined to bid in the auction. Later when it got all those starred reviews and was on everyone’s list, Scholastic bought 60,000 copies for the bookclub. So good sales trumps. . .you name it!

Like many people in the children’s/YA community, I spend serious brain time trying to decide what books to purchase for the children of my own family. My little cousin Alex is a huge fan of your Hop Toad, illustrated by Karen Lee Schmidt (Harcourt, 2003), written for the Pre-K audience and up. What considerations should writers keep in mind when crafting stories for the youngest readers?

Picture books are getting younger and younger, fewer and fewer words these days. I miss the days of the older, more sophisticated picture book. I have about 30 unsold picture books in my files.

The decline in the picture book market has many picture book lovers–writers and readers–fretting their future. Is it right to worry? Is the dip temporary, do you think? Cyclical?

Cyclical (she says, fingers crossed).

It seems that every day a book is banned somewhere for some reason. Have any of your books been challenged or banned? (I thought perhaps your award-winning Holocaust-related fantasy novel, The Devil’s Arithmetic (Viking, 1988), if simply because of the title).

DA has certainly been banned. But Briar Rose [Tor, 1992] was burned on the steps of the Kansas City Board of Education building.

What year was your first book published?

1963. Two books–one a YA nonfiction Pirates in Petticoats, one a rhymed concept picture book See This Little Line, both from David McKay.

Do you still remember that feeling?

Every day.

In what major ways, if any, do you feel publishing has changed over the course of your career?

It has become Hollywoodized. Writers are simply wordsmiths for hire. Celebrity trumps good stories.

How about yourself as a writer?

I keep trying to grow as a writer.

What new Jane Yolen titles should your readers look for in 2006?

Count Me A Rhyme: a poetry book with pohotos by Jason Stemple, Boyds Mills;
Fairy Tale Feasts: cookbook fairy tale book with Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Interlink Books;
This Little Piggy: songbook and fingerplay book with Adam Stemple, illustrations by Will Hillenbrand, Candlewick;
Troll Bridge with Adam Stemple, rock ‘n’ roll fairy tale novel, Tor;
Take Joy revised and enlarged edition, Writer’s Digest Books;
Prince Across the Water, paperback, Speak/Putnam;
Friend: The Story of George Fox and the Quakers, paperback, Quaker Press.

Fall 2006:
Rogue’s Apprentice: novel with Robert J. Harris, Philomel;
How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends, board book, illustrations by Mark Teague, Blue Sky/Scholastic;
How Do Dinosaurs Learn Their Colors, board boook, illustrations by Mark Teague, Blue/Sky Scholastic;
Dimity Duck, illustrations by Sebastien Braun, Philomel and Harper UK;
Baby Bear’s Books, illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Harcourt.

Winter 2006-2007:
Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep with Heidi E.Y. Stemple, illustrations by Brooke Dyer, picture book, HarperCollins.

Cynsational Notes

In addition to those featured above, my favorite books by Jane include the picture book Where Have The Unicorns Gone?, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

Cynsational News & Links

“After 25 Years, Yolen Still Provides Children with’Quiet Friends'” by Lisa Horak from BookPage. January 1999.

A Book Review and Discussion with Jane Yolen, Author by RoseEtta Stone from The Purple Crayon. Focus is on Briar Rose (Tor, 1992), which–as Jane mentions above–“was burned on the steps of the Kansas City Board of Education building.”

Author Interview: Jane Yolen from January 2004.

Interview with Jane Yolen by Raymond H. Thompson from Interviews with Authors of Modern Arthurian Literature. August 1988.

Congratulations to author Tanya Lee Stone, whose upcoming novel A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl (Wendy Lamb, 2006) received a starred review from School Library Journal. Check out the buzz! Add this title to your must reads for the new year!

Congratulations to D.L. Garfinkle, who just sold her second young adult novel. She is the author of the debut novel Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl by D.L. Garfinkle (Putnam, 2005), which is one of my featured Cynsational Books of 2005.