Celebrating Jane Yolen

May is Jewish Heritage Month and to celebrate, I wanted to also find a woman author on our shelves to highlight on the blog. I was excited, and a little embarrassed I didn’t already know, to find that Jane Yolen is a Jewish American author for whom we hold copies of primarily her children’s books in both the Shaw and Gontarski children’s literature collections.

I first became fascinated with Yolen’s work when I was working on my own undergraduate thesis which focused on re-imaging fairy tales in different genres. Yolen was one of the best at taking a tale you thought you’d heard a million times before and putting a new spin on it. Her tales were often creepy, off-beat, and did often incorporate elements of mysticism that I realize now could have come from her Jewish background by utilizing Jewish folklore and traditions alongside “traditional” fairy tales.

There two books from our shelves I wanted to particularly highlight for this blog post. One is very much in the vein of turning a fairy tale on its head and the other illustrates perfectly Yolen’s quote: “I don’t care whether the story is real or fantastical. I tell the story that needs to be told.”

Sleeping Ugly is a Yolen classic. Taking the story of Sleeping Beauty and changing who the hero and villain are to encourage readers to look at the story from another angle and maybe question the morals you leave a story with. I share in one of the images the moral of the story but you’ll have to read the book to find out how you get there!

I saw “pirate queen” in the title of Yolen book and knew I need to take a look! In The Ballad of the Pirate Queens, Yolen tells the story of those famous pirate queens, Anne Bonny and Mary Read in verse. Our donor was lucky enough to own a signed edition of this beautifully illustrated edition of Yolen’s poem. While not an illustrator herself, I noted in looking through Yolen’s books on our shelves that she must have a good working relationship with her illustrators because not only are her books well-illustrated, it’s clear they also understand the style and atmosphere that needs to accompany Yolen’s words.

We have many titles from Jane Yolen in both the John Mackay Shaw Childhood in Poetry and the Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature collections to explore if she’s caught your fancy!

Published by Krystal Thomas

Digital Archivist at Florida State University

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