Jane Yolen has written nearly 400 books for children and adults. Her work has earned a slew of awards, including a Caldecott Medal, two Nebula awards, the Jewish Book Award, and two Christopher Medals. Plus, she’s earned several awards for her complete body of work and six honorary doctorates. In the literature world, Jane Yolen is a living legend.
If you’re new to her work, you might not know where to begin. I mean, she’s written nearly 400 books. Read on to discover several reading pathways you can take with Yolen’s work and some of my very favorite books.
Yolen might be best known for her picture books. If you’re searching for books for your youngest reader, try…
Owl Moon illustrated by John Schoenherr
This book is timeless. I first read Owl Moon when I was in elementary school in the 1990s while studying winter and cold weather animals. I rediscovered it as an adult while working in the children’s section of a public library. I was searching for books to help teach kids about…winter and cold weather animals. It was a hit with my story time group, just like it was with my class all those years ago. Owl Moon captures the magic of a nighttime walk with a loved one and the wonder of winter.
How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? Illustrated by Mark Teague
You can’t go wrong with the prolific How Do Dinosaurs? series. Illustrated by Mark Teague, each colorful installment depicts dinosaurs engaged in the playful behavior of their toddler counterparts. My toddler especially loves How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? for the easily identifiable dinos and their silly shenanigans.
Middle Grade and YA Novels
This award-winning historical fiction novel transports a young Jewish girl named Hannah back in time to the Holocaust. Hannah experiences the horrors of war and gains a new understanding for everything her family members and community survived. This is a deeply moving novel that is accessible for young readers. Yolen has written two other powerful books about the Holocaust for young adults: Briar Rose and Mapping the Bones.
Magic, myths, and folklore are common themes in Yolen’s work. In Wizard’s Hall, a young boy named Henry is shipped off to a magical boarding school. He picks up the nickname Thornmallow and must learn to marshal his talents and persevere in order to defeat an evil wizard bent on destroying their world. It’s a fun, fast-paced read that teaches young readers that talent and destiny only get you so far—what really matters is how hard you try. Other magical YA works by Yolen include The Hostage Prince and Pay the Piper.
Foiled Illustrated by Mike Cavallaro
Yolen’s first graphic novel, Foiled, is a fun, feminist story rooted in fantasy and fencing—say that five times fast! Aliera Carstairs is a teenage fencing star. She leads a quiet life until she gains a mysterious new practice weapon and finds herself on a wild adventure involving fairies and trolls. Fans will enjoy the next book in the series, Curses! Foiled Again!
Yolen wrote The Radiation Sonnets while her husband, David W. Stemple, underwent radiation therapy. Her poems cover the multitude of emotions and experiences that partners undergo when facing a health crisis like cancer. The collection is poignant, raw, and inspiring.
If you’re interested in Yolen’s philosophies and musings on the craft of writing, Take Joy is a wonderful book to pick up. It contains advice on writing honestly, how to capture your reader’s attention, and how to handle those pesky rejection letters. Yolen also reminds writers to seize the joy that inspired them to pick up the pen.
This collection of folktales from around the world features brave, inspiring young girls and their exploits. If you’re looking for a multicultural short story collection with empowering protagonists, you’ll be rewarded by picking up Not One Damsel in Distress. A word of caution: these stories contain dark themes and occasional violence.
Bonus: Emily Dickinson
Emily Writes: Emily Dickinson and her Poetic Beginnings illustrated by Christine Davenier
This is Yolen’s most recent work featuring the lauded poet. Emily Writes shows Dickinson as a child, stealing scraps of papers from her father’s office and exploring the English language. This is a great book for children who are beginning to grasp all the exciting ways they can use words to describe the world around them. I’m particularly fond of the informative back matter, where Yolen offers research into Dickinson’s youth, her own experiences writing in Dickinson’s childhood home, and a selection of her poetry. If you’re interested in reading more of Yolen’s work on Dickinson, try The Emily Sonnets, My Uncle Emily, or the short story “Sister Emily’s Lightship.”