If you don’t read a lot of young adult literature, you might not know Jane Yolen. However, if you do read a lot of YA lit, you definitely know her. She’s both prolific (more than 300 books) and talented, a great combination.
Jane Yolen writes a lot of fantasy-type novels for young adults, and this is one of the reasons why I love her. Fantasy sort of seems like an overdone genre at the moment, but Yolen’s books are fresh, even on a second reading. This is partly because she doesn’t stick to a formula. Her work is original and complex. She goes beyond fantasy to folklore in several of her works.
And that leads me to another thing I love about Jane Yolen’s writing: she comes from a strong Jewish background, and it definitely shows. One of her books, Briar Rose, is about a woman trying to find the truth behind her grandmother’s Holocaust story. It’s also a fairy tale. The Jewish storytelling tradition is rich with metaphor, subtlety, and strong characters. Jane Yolen has received both the Jewish Book Award and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award.
Jane Yolen isn’t afraid to try something new. She’s written children’s books, science fiction series, cookbooks, song books, fantasy, graphic novels, and more. This woman likes to branch out. She has written a ton of short stories for anthologies, and I love me a good anthology. (An upcoming installment of The Reading Life, perhaps?)
These are some of my favorite Jane Yolen books. If you don’t think you like fantasy or science fiction, give it a try anyway. Yolen takes fantasy and sci-fi to a new level of storytelling. I love her.
This is a remarkable work of fantasy and folklore. It’s about a girl, Jenna, who lives in a place where everyone has a Dark Sister who comes to them when they reach puberty. The Dark Sister is like you in every way, except where you are light, they are dark. Jenna is more than just a girl, and she learns something about herself that will change the world. I love this book because Yolen doesn’t just use straight narrative. The story alternates between the story as Jenna sees it, folk songs people sang after the events, what anthropologists believe, and what the historians say. This multifaceted view adds layers to the story, and makes the reader question what they think they know about the past.
This is the sequel to Sister Light, Sister Dark; collectively the two books are called The Books of Great Alta. You can find them in a single volume at most book stores. I read the books this way, and it was great, because I could go back to the first book if I needed to refresh my memory about something. In White Jenna, the events of Sister Light, Sister Dark culminate in a thrilling, sad, and heartwrenching conclusion. I challenge you to not cry.
Like I mentioned above, this is a fairy tale about the Holocaust. It’s about a young woman who wants to find the truth behind her grandmother’s story of surviving the Holocaust and meeting her future husband. Gemma always told the children of the family the story of Sleeping Beauty, and would conclude with, “And that happened to me!” This is a novel that is complex, hopeful, and sad. It is part of the Windling’s Fairy Tale series; this series strives to retell fairy tales in modern, updated ways.
(Note: Yolen has the above books listed as both “Young Adult” and “Adult.” They are probably best for high schoolers on up.)
This is a retelling of a Scottish ballad, one of the only ones with a female protagonist. There are fairies, a Fairy Queen, and gorgeous illustrations. It’s technically a “picture book for older readers,” but anyone who loves a good story full of love, adventure, and magic will enjoy this book.
This is a poem set to beautiful pictures. It won the Caldecott Medal in 1988 for its illustrations. It’s about a father and daughter who go out owling one night. It’s a nice, gentle book that’s perfect for bedtime.
As you can see, Jane Yolen is an extremely diverse writer. Her upcoming books include a graphic novel about a fencer who discovers she’s a magical being, a novel about fairies stripped of their power, and a picture book about a grandfather telling his grandchildren the names of things. This last book is based on Yolen’s late husband. I know you will find something she’s written that you love.
Who do YOU love? Let me know!