the Little Red Reviewer

An Interview with Jane Yolen

Posted on: November 10, 2015

img-jane-yolen-author-photo_175350610876I’m sure you grew up reading Jane Yolen. I know I did. Maybe your mother read you her children’s rhyming books when you were a child. Maybe you read those books to your children. Even if you don’t know her name, you know her work. From young children rhyming books such as An Invitation to the Butterfly Ball to books for young readers, to books for older readers. When I was a preteen, I read a book whose scenes still haunt me, more than twenty years later. That book? By Jane Yolen.

A novelist, poet, fantasist, journalist, songwriter, storyteller, folklorist, and children’s book author, Jane Yolen has written more than three hundred books. Her accolades include the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Awards, the Kerlan Award, two Christopher Awards, and six honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Born and raised in New York City, the mother of three and the grandmother of six, Yolen lives in Massachusetts and St. Andrews, Scotland.

Many of her titles have recently become available as e-books through Open Road media. Mrs. Yolen was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her books, how publishing has changed, and if she’s got a particular pet. Read on for the answers!

Little Red Reviewer: Although many readers (including you and I) are still quite fond of physical books, e-books are making quite the inroads. I find e-books convenient for books that have been out of print for a long time and are have now become available as e-books. What do you think might be the next leap in “book technology”?


Jane Yolen: Possibly a return to physical books (which I prefer) with parts that move, imbedded movie bits, music chips. Or possibly surround-books with movie screens in the middle of which the reader sits to be immersed in the sound and movement of the book. I don’t expect to see these myself at my age.



LRR: Your collection of re-imagined fairy tales, Sister Emily’s Lightship, was recently re-released as an e-book. What is so alluring about taking the fairy tales we grew up with, and giving them a twist? Do you have any particular favorites out of that collection?


JY: I am always partial to the Grimm reconstructions: “Granny Rumple”, “Snow in Summer”, “Allerleirauh.” but of course that book is more than just re-imagined fairy tales. The two stories in it that are Nebula winners are not. “Lost Girls,” is a modern feminist take on Peter Pan, and the other, the title story (which is in my mind I have always called Emily Dickinson Meets A Martian), is a classic First Contact sf story of the meeting between two poets, one human and one alien. But fairy tales were my first love and laid such a strong ground bass to my life, of course that had to come out in my stories.

invitation to the butterfly ball


LRR: Your books have been illustrated by so many incredible artists – Roger Roth, Mike Cavallaro, Mark Teague, Bruce Degen, Kelly Murphy, Jim Burke, and Jane Breskin Zalbin, just to name a few. How involved have you been with the artwork the illustrators created to go with your lyrical prose?


JY: Normally picture book writers and illustrators are kept arm’s length from one another. That’s because most writers haven’t a clue as to how the pictures in a picture book are made. I’ve been a children’s book editor (with Knopf and Harcourt) so am seen as more seasoned and knowlegable. I keep up with new young illustrators. So I am much more involved than most.


LRR: It’s been more than twenty years since I read The Devil’s Arithmetic, and scenes from that book still haunt me. You’ve written a number of non-fiction history books for young readers and historical fiction. What is your researching process for your historical books?


JY: How do you decide what subjects to study and then write about? It almost always begins with a character: Hannah, Mary Queen of Scots and her three female jesters, Robert the Bruce’s daughter captured and put in a cage by King Long Shanks. Even before I start to do research, I know my hero. Warts and all. Research fills in the interstices, fleshes out costumes and what can be eaten, the dresses, the history itself. But character comes first.



LRR: Any suggested titles (yours or others) for parents of reluctant readers, or even older kids who say they don’t like reading?


JY: Graphic novels because there are fewer words, books that are also movies to give the reluctant reader a bit of a boost, series books because once that young reader opens the door to the first one, he or she will breeze through the rest. They already have the key to that door, you see and having used it once, have no fear of using it again.



LRR: Your writing and publishing career has spanned over five decades. What in the publishing and writing world has changed the most during the time period?


JY: Let me get out my cane and whack it a couple of times on the floor. Whack! Whack! Whack! In the old days, an editor would decide on her own what manuscript she (most children’s book editors back then were women) wanted to buy and then walk it down the hall to where the marketing and publicity people worked and say, “This is the book that you will sell. But now there is a pub committee on which sit other editors, marketing people, sales people etc and the editor has to try and convince them all that the book will make the publishing company a good deal of money. Children’s publishing has gone from 1500 different books published a year to about 10,000.



LRR: I mentioned to my family that I was doing this interview, and one of my family members would like to know if you have a pet dragon yet. And if not, would you like one?


JY: I have a lot of dragon figures around the house, a selchie, some unicorns. But a real dragon? Do you know how big and smelly their fewmets are? How many pieces of furniture they’d destroy by burping out flames?


LRR: thanks Jane!  you can check out more of her titles that are now available as e-books here.


4 Responses to "An Interview with Jane Yolen"

Lovely interview! And I see a title I’d like to try: Foiled!


Awesome. Jane Yolen just does do many things right.

I’m also interested in Foiled. What a great title. I will have to check it out.


Always interesting to hear veterans of the field share observations about how the industry has changed over the years! Also, haven’t read Jane Yolen’s fairytale inspired stories, but am going to, now 🙂


Jane Yolen’s “Briar Rose” is one of the books that’s stuck with me the most over the years. Having been raised Catholic, the book was my first meaningful exposure to a homosexual character, and it yanked me out of my comfort zone and made me think critically about what I’d always been taught. It was eye-opening.

Great interview with a fantastic author!


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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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