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The Timeless Stories of Jane Yolen

She's been compared to Hans Christian Andersen and that clever fable maker Aesop. For children (and adults!) in today's world, her carefully crafted stories sing with a timeless rhythm and an honest truth. Her family's Russian-Jewish roots have given her the jumping-off place for many a tale (And Twelve Chinese Acrobats, Firebird, and Baba Yaga), but some stories seem to drawn from the heart of the world itself.

Jane Yolen, born in New York City on February 11, 1939, showed a talent for writing early on when she wrote and composed the words and music to her grade school pageant, starring as the lead carrot. She seems to have never slowed down during her years in high school: news editor of the school paper, Spanish club vice president, singing with the a capella choir, and captain of the varsity basketball team. Summers spent at a Vermont camp run by Quakers influenced her deeply. Several of her later books (The Gift of Sarah Barker and Friend: The Story of George Fox and the Quakers) relate to this period of spiritual growth.

Her gifts were applauded at the all-women's Smith College, where she won many writing awards, some for journalism, and held an internship with the Bridgeport Sunday Herald. After college, she began working for publishers in the New York area until she became a full-time writer. She and her husband, a professor of computer science, settled in the beautiful countryside of New England.

Dragons in the Attic

For many years, Jane and her husband have lived at Phoenix Farm in Massachusetts. The lovely old building houses many wonders, including TWO offices for Jane and a whole collection of dragons.

Why dragons? In addition to family stories and traditional folktales, Jane also writes beloved fantasy fiction for young adults. These books for older readers are peopled with dragons, unicorns, angels, witches, werewolves, vampires, robbers, ghosts, Greek heroes, and the knights of Camelot. But dragons are something special, and her fans and family make sure she has a good collection of the fire-breathing beasties to keep her company.

Family Stories

Through the years, Jane's writing has often reflected her connections to her family. The Girl Who Loved the Wind and The Emperor and the Kite (Caldecott winner) reflect her and her father's love for wind-defying bits of paper and string. Perhaps her most well-known book, Owl Moon (a Caldecott Medal winner) tells of a sweet memory of her daughter going owling on a soft, snowy, velvet night with her Pa.

Her children, a girl and two boys, live far away now and have families of their own, but they come back to Phoenix Farm and bring with them their talents and enthusiasm for music, writing, and photography. Jane and her daughter, Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple, have written several books together: The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History, Mirror, Mirror: Forty Folktales for Mothers and Daughters to Share, and Dear Mother, Dear Daughter: Poems for Young People.

Folktales for Everyone

The early 1990s saw a renewed interest in the importance of folktales for adults as well as children. Jane served on the board of N.A.P.P.S., The National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling, now known as the National Storytelling Network. Their annual get-together in Jonesborough, Tennessee is always an occasion for joy, fellowship, and cultural understanding.

This revival in the art of the story brought about a tremendous thirst for tales to tell with authentic roots. Jane brought together some favorite and obscure tales for her award-winning collection, Favorite Folktales From Around the World. This book gave a strong beginning to new storytellers and was met with great enthusiasm. Soon she was collecting tales by theme: Mightier Than the Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys, Gray Heroes: Elder Tales From Around the World, and Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales For Strong Girls.

Adaptations

Because of their starkly beautiful qualities, many of Jane Yolen's books have been adapted to other mediums than the printed page. Owl Moon is available on video, and several of her story collections may be enjoyed on audiocassette. The Devil's Arithmetic, a dark fantasy of the Holocaust that has won many awards, was made into a television movie starring Kirsten Dunst and directed by Dustin Hoffman.

Click here to see a list of all books by Jane Yolen that are owned at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

Jane on the Web

There are thousands of Internet sites that mention Jane Yolen, but we think these will be especially useful to fiction writers, report writers, and Yolen fans.

Biography Resource Center and Literature Resource Center
http://www.librarypoint.org/articles_databases
These subscription-only databases are free to CRRL card holders and contain long and interesting articles about Jane and her work.

Interview: A Conversation with Jane Yolen
http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/jun02/yolen.htm
As an experienced editor as well as a prolific and popular author, Jane gives advice and encouragement to writers who are just beginning their craft in this thoughtful conversation.

Jane Yolen Official Web Site
http://www.janeyolen.com/
"This web book presents information about her over two hundred books for children. It also contains essays, poems, answers to frequently asked questions, a brief biography, her travel schedule, and links to resources for teachers and writers. It is intended for children, teachers, writers, storytellers, and lovers of children's literature." Extra bonus: Jane Yolen's email address!

A Jane Yolen Resource Page
http://www.carr.org/authco/Yolen.html
"Need information about the author Jane Yolen? This is the place to look. Teachers, students, librarians and fans, I've made this site especially for you. Best wishes, Jeanne Mayo (Graduate student at Western Maryland College in Westminster, Maryland)"

Myths Writing Workshop With Jane Yolen
http://teacher.scholastic.com/writewit/mff/mythswshop_index.htm
"Welcome to my workshop! Here I'll show you how to write a myth -- a story that explains a natural phenomenon in a creative way. You'll also find writing strategies and a few warm-up activities to get you started. Last but not least, you'll write a myth of your own. Complete the workshop, and you'll receive a personalized Certificate of Achievement signed by me!"