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An Interview With Award-Winning Author Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen on Children's Books and the Writing Life

By

Jane Yolen Author of 250+ Children's Books

Jane Yolen Photo © Jason Stemple

I was pleased to have the opportunity to do an email interview with Jane Yolen. I was interested in interviewing her for a variety of reasons:
  • Jane Yolen is the respected author of more than 250 children's books.
  • Jane Yolen writes for a wide range of age groups.
  • Jane Yolen writes many different types of children's books, including picture books, poetry books, and novels.
  • Jane Yolen has had children's book published on a regular basis for more than forty years.
I was also intrigued by the fact that she has collaborated with other family members on some of her books. For example, her history mysteries series, which includes one of my favorite history mysteries, The Mary Celeste, is a collaboration with her daughter, Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple.

The questions I asked are ones I'd wondered about. Let me know if they are the same questions you would have asked.

Jane Yolen: Writing in a Variety of Genres

Q. You write in a variety of genres for children in a wide range of ages: mythology, fantasy, history mysteries, picture books, poetry, etc. What have I left out?
A. "Music, nonfiction of all kinds (biography etc.) historical novels, fairy tales, collections, edited anthologies."

Q. How did you happen to branch out to so many genres and age groups?
A. "Low threshold of boredom."

Q. Do you have a favorite genre or age group?
A. "Poetry and picture books I guess. Long forms are simply harder for me, not as natural. But I have many ideas that are not picture book ideas and so I have been forced to try and master the longer form."

Jane Yolen: Challenges and Censorship

Q. Have any of your books ever been challenged or subjected to censorship? How would (or did) you respond?
A. "Briar Rose was burned on the steps of the Kansas City Board of Education. Devil’s Arithmetic was challenged because of the word 'Devil' though that referred to Hitler. Other books—Dragon’s Blood, Dove Isabeau, and even No Bath Tonight (owing to tea leaves being read!)--have had parental or administration challenges."

"I say the same to any schools or libraries having trouble with my books: Even if I live too far away to come and speak up for the book in person, send the interviewers, the book banners, the parents and their children my address. I am glad to stand at your side in combating this foolishness."

Jane Yolen: Favorite Books

Q. Which of your own books are your favorites and why?
A. "Always the ones I am currently working on. However, of the books already published, my long-term favorites are: Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, Briar Rose, Wild Hujnt, All Those Secrets of the World, Ring of Earth, Dove Isabeau, Piggins, Girl in A Cage, Pay the Piper, Salem Witch Trials, Color Me A Rhyme, and Wizard's Hall. Upcoming books I am especially fond of: Baby Bear's Chairs, Troll Bridge, Count Me A Rhyme, My Uncle Emily, Naming Liberty, This Little Piggy, Here's A Little Poem."

Jane Yolen: Her Writing Life

Q. What is your working life like as a writer?
A. "Up in the morning, eat breakfast, take meds (I am at that age!), write."

Q. Do you write at a set time, for a set number of hours, in a specific place or what?
A. "Wherever I can, whenever I can. With a very sick husband, the last few months have seen very little writing." [Note: Sadly, on March 22, 2006, shortly after we began our email correspondence, Jane Yolen’s husband of 40+ years, David Stemple, passed away.]

Q. When you are collaborating on a book with a family member, what is that like? How is it structured?
A. "Usually I get the idea, sell a publisher on it, then we write. Depends which family member of course. With Adam I do fiction, with Heidi more nonfiction. With Jason, I use his photographs as a jumping off place for poetry. In each case, I have final approval though I always listen to what each of my family collaborators has to say and most of the time agree with them entirely."

Q. Are all of these family members with whom you collaborate your children? If not, what is your relationship with each?
A. "Yes--Heidi, Adam, and Jason Stemple are my children."

Q. I read that you live half a year in Massachusetts and half a year in Scotland. How has this influenced your writing?
A. "I have a lot of Scottish stories I have told, and a lot of my non-Scottish stories have an elegant British tone to them from hearing the language spoken that way all about me."

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