My view of Jane Yolen begins where it began for me. In the very early 1980s I considered the YA genre as one I wanted to pursue in my own writing. An in-depth study of the field at that time showed me that there are crossover fields in fiction that tie the adult world and the childrens world together and these works can be called adult fiction or YA depending on the content of the story. The first two crossover writers I looked at were Andre Norton and Jane Yolen. Both were women writing in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Both believed women to be strong as women, not as carbon-copy men. They did not take a female character and put her into a male role. It was so much more than that, which is why their work meant so much to me. But the focus of this study is Jane Yolen. Like her own book list, I began with her adult works.
From Briar Rose to Sister Light Sister Dark and White Jenna, her characterizations of women stand out as women with strong characters. The kind we see every day. The kind we know exist, but are rarely if ever spoken about. Jane Yolen was a writer who came along in a time that was much more willing to look at women as actual human beings, and her work was sorely needed. She is not the first by any stretch of the imagination, but of writers working during and after a womens movement, she is one of the working writers connecting with todays children. I believe this is very important. Her work has the power to challenge young women to look at the realities of what they know to be true and trust them despite what they are told about themselves.
I was so interested in Yolen as a working writer I began to look at more of her work. Since my favorite genre is fantasy I looked and most of her works and read many of the ones I looked at over time. I will always be a fan of Owl Moon, and it looks like I am not alone in that. Yolen speaks highly of this picture book as well.
The Girl in Owl Moon
While I dont have a fondness for fairy-tales, Yolen makes them more palatable for someone who has always wanted stories of women that feel right, that feel like the characters are women in ways that I and many others know women to exist.
In terms of fantasy her books on fantasy and magic are most delightful to read whether they are picture books like
The Witch Who Wasnt http://www.janeyolen.com/blurbs/witchww2.html
or the Tartan Magic series of middle grade books that includes: The Wizards Map as the first story in the trilogy, The Pictish Child, and The Bagpipers Ghost. One firm belief I hold about writers is that the author is always in the text, no matter what they write, and by knowing a little more about a writer, you can sometimes catch a glimpse of why a work was written, where the author was coming from, and the forces that push an individual to use their creativity to tell you how they feel about life. Jane Yolens life fits into her stories well. This author is definitely in her texts.
The Tartan Magic Series includes a part of Yolens life connected to her travels to Scotland and the stories she has found mixed in with the journey of her life.
The Wizards Map takes a very real historical figure (Michael Scot) surrounded by some very non-historical interpretations of a man who was a warlock and supposedly wrote so magically powerful a book that when it was found it had to be locked up physically bound to a wall of a church.
Yolens character of Michael Scot has drawn a map of Fairburn (a made up city) and this map has some magic qualities that will affect those who live there. He lost the map and now wants it back, but the maps caretaker has given the map to someone else. It is up to a family of children who now have the map, to figure out how they will save themselves, the city and everyone from the wickedness of this corrupt wizard.
In the second story The Pictish Child magic is still a major player in the story. A talisman opens the door to the past, and our three heroes must change a mistake in the past in order to correct the path of the future. They meet the past in the child found in the graveyard and with her help, beat the evil magic this time by changing what went wrong in time.
The third story The Bagpipers Ghost highlights an interesting legend of the lady in white. Who is she? What is her story? And more important, what is her purpose? What keeps The Lady in White tied to the cemetary? Can Jennifer save Peter and still help the Lady in White? And why doesn't the piper leave? All these questions are raised in the third book of the Tartan Magic series. The magic still exists aand can perhaps be used to undo a great damage that was done in the past. This was a good story with a satisfying conclusion.
All Three books in the series focus on the twins, magic, and the strange goings on in Scotland.
Tartan Magic Series Book Reviews
The Wizard's Map
Kids talk about books
Worchester (Massachusetts) Public library kids page
The Pictish Child
SuperReader's Book Review
Book Ideas Review
The Bagpiper's Ghost
Book Ideas Review
Review by Cindy Lynn Speer.
Jane Yolen also writes using a realistic backdrop. Her world war II story The Devils Arithmetic is another wonderful blending of past and present. This aspect of yolens work is something I think she does very well indeed. Her lesson: We are all Heroes Here. This quote comes from an article by Yolen that includes this passage:
My mother said before she... died... that it is much harder to live this way and to die this way than to go out shooting. Much harder. Chaya, you are a hero. I am a hero." Rifka stared for a moment at the sky and the curling smoke. "We are all heroes here."
Yolen concludes that this book has another lesson in it as well: that lesson of remembrance:
The Devil's Arithmetic begins with the sentence "I'm tired of remembering" and ends with the words "I remember, I remember."
A multitude of themes run rampant throughout Yolens work, and all are deserving of mention. Her focus on gender is reflected in every work. Magic crops up consistently as do fairy tales. A favorite dichotomy is light / dark inner / outer, good / bad, twins. She also focuses on relationship pairings.
Some Personal Interviews
http://www.geocities.com/puckrobin/rh/yolen1.html Interviews In Sherwood by Allen W. Wright
http://forum.co-nect.net/forum/topicDisplay.php?topicID=166 Kids Who Read: Ask Jane Yolen
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/show-interview/y-j-olenane/104-4821692-2344731 Amazon.Com Interviews Jane Yolen
http://realitybreak.sff.net/archive/yolen.htp Reality Break A Talk Show of Fantastic Literature. Yolen talks about the Dragons in her stories from Here There Be Dragons to the Pit Dragon Stories.
INTERVIEW WITH Jane Yolen by Raymond H. Thompson.
Locus Online: Jane Yolen Telling Tales.
http://www.scifi.com/transcripts/1999/yolen.html Scifi.com chat interview
· Yolen was born in New York City February 11, 1939. Her parents were Will and Isabelle Yolen.
· After High school she went on to attend Smith College.
· In 1962 she married David Stemple.
· Yolen has 4 Grandchildren.
· She has written over 200 books either alone or with others.
· Thinks Own Moon is one of the best books she has ever written.
· Past President of the Science Fiction Writers of America.
· On the board of Directors of the Society of Childrens Book Writers & Illustrators.
Much of Yolen's work highlights the strengths of girls and women, and tells the story of life from their perspective. Strong women live on in her works.
Owl Moon won a Caldecott Award
The short story "Sister Emily's Lightship won a Nebula Award in 1997
The Novellette "Lost Girls" won a Nebula Award in 1998.
The Devil's Arithmetic has recieved several Awards:
The Jewish Book Council Award, Association of Jewish Libraries Award,
Sydney Taylor Book Award.
It was also a Finalist for the Nebula Award.
Briar Rose received the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award
as did the Young Merlin Trilogy
- Book of the Dales Trilogy
Yolen, Jane. 1988. Sister Light, Sister Dark. Tor.
Yolen, Jane. 1989 White Jenna. Tor
(These two books were published together as The Books of Great Alta.
A third book was published later.
Yolen, Jane. 1998. The One-Armed Queen. Tor.
- Writing Books For Children an out of print book now titled Guide to Writing for Children.
Yolen, Jane. 1989. Guide to Writing For Children. Writers Inc.
Yolen, Jane. 1999. The Wizards Map. Harcourt Brace.
Yolen, Jane.1999. The Pictish Child. Harcourt Brace.
Yolen, Jane. 2002. The Bagpipers Ghost. Harcourt Brace.
- The beautiful Picture Book Owl Moon.
Yolen, Jane. Ill. By John Schoenherr. 1987. Owl Moon. Philomel.
- Wizards Hall, a story that predates Harry Potter by some 8 years. About a young wizard named Henry (he gets re-named), at a school for wizards.
Yolen, Jane. Ill. By Trina Schart Hyman. 1991. Wizards Hall.
- Yolen tackles the Holocaust with The Devils Arithmetic.
Yolen, Jane. 1988. The Devils Arithmetic. Viking.
- In Briar Rose, Yolen takes the Sleeping beauty mythos to the Holocaust.
Yolen, Jane. 1992. Briar Rose. Tor.
Yolen, Jane. 1982. Dragons Blood. Delacorte.
Yolen, Jane. 1984. Hearts Blood. Delacorte.
Yolen, Jane. 1987. A Sending of Dragons. Delacorte.
- A picture book story of Smith Colleges Founder Sophia Smith.
Yolen, Jane. Ill. By Monica Vachula. 1998. Tea With an Old Dragon. Boyds Mills.
- Any book of poetry by Jane Yolen.
Yolen, Jane. Ill. By Demi. 1990. Dragon Night. Methun. (sadly, this one is out of print.
Yolen, Jane. Ill. By Janet Street. Raining Cats and Dogs. Harcourt Brace.