Monday, March 29, 2010

Women in Folklore Month: Jane Yolen

Where do I even start? Jane Yolen "has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century." And with hundreds of books to her name over a long career, it's impossible to highlight them all here. These days she is perhaps best known for her bestselling series starting with How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? but Jane has been actively working with folklore and fairy tales throughout her diverse writing career. According to her website, she has 299 titles currently to her name with 189 in print.

From her website:

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, the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award among many others.

Briar Rose is one of my sentimental favorites for it is how I discovered Jane's work. I wasn't familiar with her until college when I attended a conference she spoke at. She read from her manuscript for Briar Rose which was not yet published. This was before preorders on Amazon (the joy of my life these days) and I waited and hunted for the book for several months after that. If you are interested in Sleeping Beauty and/or the Holocaust, this is a wonderful novel, short but moving.

One of my favorite titles is Touch Magic. I highly recommend it if you are at all interested in children's literature, fantasy and fairy tales. Here's the Library Journal review:

This revision of a classic collection of historical and analytical essays explores the use of fantasy and fairytales in children's literature. The compilation of 16 perceptive essays includes six new entries and updates others from the original 1981 publication. Yolen, winner of the National Book Award and the Caldecott Medal, among other honors, is a renowned storyteller and author of more than 200 books for children and adults. Authoritative, eloquent, and fetching, her observations focus on traditional tales that have passed down through generations and been altered in the process. Folklore and fantasy have, she asserts, endured as basic learning tools to introduce young readers to the world around them, and the stories are a uniquely appropriate guide to day-to-day realities and culture. The definition and impact of these stories is couched in the wonder of fantasy and themes essential to today's young readers. As Yolen poetically observes, "To do without tales and stories and books is to lose humanity's past, is to have no star map for the future." This book will be prized by teachers, authors, students, and all readers who value the use of folklore, mythology, and the familiar stories of youth. A pleasure to read; highly recommended.

Sleeping Ugly is quite simply fun. Jane likes to twist fairy tales around just as much as the rest of us. Sleeping Ugly is one of her earlier titles, still in print and still entertaining young readers with its take on the well-known tale.

Fairy Tale Feasts is a recipe book for the culinary and fairy tale minded. Publisher's description:

From the earliest days of stories, when hunters told of their exploits around the campfire, to the era of kings in castles listening to the storyteller at the royal feast, to the time of TV dinners, stories and eating have been close companions. So it is not unusual that folk stories are often about food: Jack's milk cow traded for beans, Snow White given a poisoned apple, Hansel and Gretel lured by the gingerbread house.

Exquisitely illustrated by Philippe Beha, Fairy Tale Feasts is more than collection of stories and recipes. In it, Caldecott-winning author Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi Stemple, imagine their readers as co-conspirators, cooks, and tellers of tales themselves.

Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls and Mightier Than the Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys: These two companion books provide great stories with strong women as well as men who don't require violence to solve their problems.

(This post is getting much longer than I intended. I have such a hard time picking just a few titles to highlight!)

Gray Heroes: Elder Tales from Around the World

My own review that I wrote 10 years ago this week (wow!): "Fairy tales and folk tales are for all ages and about all ages. The amazing Jane Yolen edited this collection of tales that are often overlooked or forgotten. The tales, as the title implies, focus on older characters instead of the younger ones we often read about in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Yolen has collected tales that will be of interest to any reader looking for a different focus when reading fairy tales and folklore. The multicultural sources emphasize the presence of elder characters around the world. This book would be particularly great as a gift to a parent, grandparent or other person who first read you a fairy tale as a child."

Mirror, Mirror: Forty Folk Tales for Mothers and Daughters to Share is intended more for older daughters and their mothers (not the preschool or elementary school set). Here's the publisher's description:

In this magical collection, an award-winning author and folklorist teams up with her daughter, selecting forty folk and fairy stories from all over the world that pay tribute to strong mothers, doting mothers, ambivalent mothers, obsessive mothers, even the quintessential wicked stepmother, and their relations-for better or worse-with their daughters. Included are enduring favorites such as Cinderella and the Greek myth of Persephone along with lesser known tales from the Sudan, Palestine, Italy, Africa, India, Russia, China, Japan, and the Americas. After each tale, Yolen and Stemple explore its place in folklore, family history, psychology, and literature. Whether read by mothers and daughters on their own or in mother/daughter reading groups, these stories are a source of connection and enchantment.

I have several of her fairy tale related books featured on SurLaLune.
I am in the process of building and updating this page. My "to do" list is too long this month, but I will finish this in the next few days. We are near the end of the month and so I had to finish this post and share it while I still had a few days left to do so.

And, of course, you can visit the Official Jane Yolen website and read about all her titles as well as follow Jane's blog.

1 comment:

  1. Touch Magic is a wonderful book, as are all of Jane's books. She's a wonderful writer. Owl Moon is among my favorite picture books, and The Devil's Arithmetic (about the Holocaust) is a powerful book for grades 4-8. Oh, heck, just read them all! :)