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Behold a summer escape in a picture book!

Releasing on August 1st from Flashlight Press, GIANT ISLAND reveals an astonishing secret as a grandfather and his two grandchildren embark upon a common, everyday fishing trip…or so they think…

Jane, this blog emphasizes the importance of brainstorming story ideas often to get to the book-worthy ones. Where did you get the idea for GIANT ISLAND?

Not in the usual way.

I was contacted by an editor I didn’t know, Shari Dash Greenspan, at a publishing company I hadn’t yet worked with, to help rewrite/edit the text of a book by an amazing illustrator, Doug Keith. Doug had the idea for a book about an island that is actually a giant, and what happens when a family visits it. The publisher already had the book dummy and about half of the paintings were done, but there wasn’t a working text because the story was all told visually by the illustrator. The pictures were fantastic, but they needed some assist with an actual story.

In other words, they needed a writer. And that’s where I came in.

I studied the pictures until I knew them by heart. I knew I had to give the book a text/story that matched its lyrical and yet humorous visual telling. The characters were a given—a grandfather, a grandson and granddaughter, a dog…and a giant…  I couldn’t change them, I had to make them live.

I wrote, rewrote, invented, re-invented. Editor Shari edited and illustrator Doug occasionally re-drew, and the book became what you see now. So, NOT your usual way of creating a picture book.

Shari has become a dear friend and I am still trying to sell her something else!!! Or maybe I can convince her to do a RETURN TO GIANT ISLAND where the kids help save the island from becoming someone’s home. Doug could have a grand time with that.

Aha! It was the illustrator’s idea! There are many wordless PBs, though. Why did Shari want to add words?

The book had been meant to be a wordless book, but while the pictures were beautiful, the story’s subtleties were not clear enough without words. And the marvelous Doug was more artist than wordsmith. So we each brought our A games to make the book—artist, editor/art director, and author in that order. Not the usual order, but this time it worked. Whew!!!

Click on spreads to enlarge

What were your concerns as you were writing and wanting to stay true to Doug’s story? Did you communicate with him during the process?

I tried to stay close to what Doug had already done, at least as close as possible. I had my fierce (and funny) editor to keep me on track. We all wanted it to seem seamless. And I think (hope) that is true.

Was it harder than just writing the piece from the start and letting an illustrator go at it?

A bit.

But isn’t that just a reversal of roles? Because that is what artists do all the time—take the words and turn them into pictures!

Also, I have done this before, once with a picture book retelling of Sleeping Beauty with artist Ruth Sanderson. And in about twelve books of poetry in which I wrote poems to go with my son Jason’s photographs of animals on sea, land, and in the sky.

What do you hope readers will take away after reading GIANT ISLAND?

GIANT ISLAND is a book about magic and imagination that spans a family’s generations and ages, from children to grandfather. And it is also about storytelling, though that is subtext. And for me, it had another meaning because I got to meet and befriend both editor Shari and illustrator Doug.

What is it about magic and secrets that children love so much?

I am not sure. I know that from childhood, magic stories sustained me.

But I also remember a young Scottish boy, son of a friend, to whom I gave a witch book I had written, and he handed it back solemnly saying, “Boys like books about real things.” (Of course I know a computer scientist who creates fantasy board games. Go figure!)

This story involves a grandfather and his grandchildren—do you have any secret family stories?

As a grandmother, I often tell the story of MY grandmother and grandfather their eight children living in “the old country” (Ukraine). When the Russian Cossacks came to raid Jewish villages and set houses on fire, my five-foot-nothing, red-headed grandmother would gather her children and her neighbors’ children, put them into a large horse-drawn cart, and cover them with hey and grains. She would drive them out of the village and into the safety of the forest, waving at the Cossacks who thought, with her red hair, that she was probably Polish (and not Jewish). So they left her alone.

I hope I have inherited some of her tough magic, her courage. The family left their big house in the early 1900s and migrated to America. Last month the Russians bombed the house, but we lucky Yolens are safe here. It’s a story that my children and their children will be able to tell forever.

What a beautiful story, Jane! Or I should say, two beautiful stories!

GIANT ISLAND is a gorgeous book, and Jane brings GIANT ISLAND to life with subtlety, to let the majestic illustrations by Doug Keith speak with their wonder. Jane tells the reader only what they need to know—and the rest can be left up to the imagination. Who is this giant? How did he get here? What other adventures await the children?

GIANT ISLAND releases next week from Flashlight Press!

Blog readers, I am giving away a copy of GIANT ISLAND.

Just leave one comment below.

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

Get ready for a new classic flying into bookstores next week: A KITE FOR MOON.

 

Late last year I had the pleasure of hearing Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple speak about the genesis of KITE and the long, winding journey it took. I’ll let Jane and Heidi take it from here…

Heidi: My mother and I have written about 22 books together and every one has it’s own process. KITE FOR MOON began in a completely different way.

Jane: Initially, it was my picture book. A combination of remembering the moon walk (Heidi was only about 2 and a half at the time, which we watched on our very small TV) and the fact that all through my growing up, my father was a kite flier. In fact he was the International Kite Flying Champion and president of the of the International Kite Fliers Assn. My card said, “May design own costume.”

Both my agent and I liked the manuscript, and so she sent it off. It kept getting rejected.

Heidi: Eventually, everyone gave up on that manuscript and it wound up collecting dust in a drawer. At some point, at least a couple years later (but, likely close to 5) I was asked to find it and send it on to an agent friend of ours who was looking for a project for one of his illustrators.  But, before I sent it, I read it.  It was not good. It was too sentimental and too long—too wordy, wordy, wordy. I’m pretty bossy, so I told her. And asked if I could take a whack at it.

The bones were good. But, it promised an ending it didn’t deliver. It needed serious pruning and a ton of focus.  So I did that.

 And sent it back to JY. (Yes, that’s how Heidi refers to her mom.)

Jane: I saw immediately that while Heidi had seen this as an editing job, and while she kept a great deal of my prose, what she added made it her book as well. And I insisted that her name be on the manuscript as well. There was a bit more back-and-forthing till we were both satisfied. Then the book went out with both our names attached. And lo! Zonderkidz (an arm of Harper Collins) bought it. And they started looking for an artist.

Heidi:  We were sitting at a conference listening to lectures when Matt Phelan got up to speak. His art was being shown and, there was a piece he had with kids in a classroom and my head exploded. THAT was our kid!  I poked JY in the side (she didn’t appreciate that) and whispered “Kite! Kite!”

Once I explained what I meant, we both went to work on Zonderkidz to approach Matt to illustrate. He said yes.  The only thing we changed after that was the last page originally said ‘listened’ and we changed it to “watched” based on Matt’s amazing last page. I don’t want to give anything away, but when I read the last 2 pages, I still get choked up.

Jane: We’ve read the book to a number of audiences so far, mostly adults, mostly writers, and when we get to the last two pages, everyone chokes up or gasps. I am not sure that was what we were going for. But my husband and I had given that same sort of gasp when Neil Armstrong walked down the ladder and stepped on the moon. I hope all our readers, young and old, feel the moment. Though this is not the story of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first on the moon, it is the story of something monumental about how one small child becomes an adult who does something truly out of this world.

I listened to Jane and Heidi read the book, and I gasped, too.

If you want to gasp at your own copy signed by this amazing mother-daughter duo, please leave a comment below.

A winner will be randomly selected in a couple of weeks!

Good luck!

 

by Jane Yolen

I could go on a metaphoric streak about ideas, talking about stalking the shy idea, cultivating the wild idea, setting traps… etc. …

But honestly, ideas are thick on the ground. They are everywhere. If you’re a writer, just take a walk outside and ideas will come to you at once.

Take my hand. Here we are crossing from my house, over a set of stone steps, walking down to my daughter’s house. It is evening. There are sun-activated lights.

I think: fairy lights. What if a child going over a stone walkway to her grandmother’s house, fantasizes a story about fairies guiding her to their queen. Or perhaps fireflies are out. The child in the picture suddenly begins to see that lights are not just random, but patterned. She grows into a famous scientist studying fireflies. Or perhaps the child is lost and the lights call her home. Or. . .

See—the single idea of a child walking in the evening and lights—sun-activtated, or firefly or fairy lights—I already have the beginnings of three different stories from one idea.

And if the same story was written by, say—Patricia Polacco, Dan Santat, or me—you would get three very different stories indeed.

So it’s not the idea by itself, but what you do with it that matters.

A dinosaur in a human setting. It could be HOW DO DINOSAURS DAY GOODNIGHT, DINOSAUR BOB AND HIS ADVENTURES WITH THE FAMILY LAZARDO, or DINOSAURS LOVE UNDERPANTS.

How do I know this? Well, after 366 books (#s 365 and 366 are being published March 6 of this year) I think I can say reliably that those ideas are everywhere. But if you are not alert to them, you will probably be stomping on them every time you put your feet over the side of the bed. (And what kind of monster is under your bed anyway?)

So being alert is a start.

But another important part is—take time. Time out or time in. Time for yourself, and time to just quietly keep your eyes sharp.

I call those days I am not writing, “gathering days”. When I am walking outside, I am always aware that I am breathing in stories. When I read a newspaper or book or story or poem by someone else, I find stories there as well.

When I sit in a train or a plane, and listen in in on conversations of strangers—gossip is also a story starter. You learn about individual voices by eavesdropping.

Patricia MacLachlan regularly uses things her grandchildren have said as story starters.

My COMMANDER TOAD books began when my son Adam was bright and brave since he was afraid of going up the stairs for bed which meant going down the long dark hall to his room.

Maurice Sendak has said that WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE came about because of at family parties his aunts and uncles leaning over and pinching his cheeks when he was a very small and saying, “You are so cute, I am going to eat you up!”

OWL MOON was a story I saw played out in my own family as my husband took our children out owling.

Oh—and when editor Bonnie Verberg called me up and said, “My son Robbie is three years old. He hates to go to bed and he loves dinosaurs. Can you do anything for him? And HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT was born. Robbie is now graduated from NYU. I like to think I had a little bit to do with that!

Yep, ideas everywhere.

So don’t ask where do you get your ideas. Ask yourself: “What can I do with all the ideas I have?”

And then go out there and cultivate that wild idea.


Jane Yolen, often called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America,” is celebrating her 365th published book in 2018. Her works, which range from very young rhymed picture books to novels for adults and every genre in between, have won an assortment of awards including two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award, a Caldecott, the Golden Kite, three Mythopoeic awards, two Christopher Medals, the Jewish Book Award, the Kerlan Award, and the Catholic Library’s Regina Medal, as well as six honorary doctorates. She lives in Massachusetts in the winter and Scotland in the summer. She writes every day. Follow her on Twitter @janeyolen #Yolen365 or on Facebook and visit her website: JaneYolen.com.

Also see Jane’s previous Storystorm post about how a haunting photograph of the “angel” apartment building in Paris prompted a new picture book. 

Jane is giving away a signed copy of OWL MOON.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

janeyolen© 2013 by Jane Yolen

I have a Muse who works overtime, or at least that’s how it looks from the outside. But I think about something my late husband once said. An ardent birder and, in his retirement, a bird recordist whose tapes now reside in both the Cornell Library of Natural Sounds and the British Natural History Museum, he was known in the birding community as “a lucky birder.” That meant he seemed to find more rarities and more hard-to-see birds than anyone else. But his response was, “I show up.” And that’s what I think the Muse actually is: the writer showing up every day and doing the hard work of writing.

If you write FOR a particular market or FOR a particular editor you will often miss the mark. But if you write because your fingers have danced across the keyboard, because a character has tapped you on the shoulder, because a story has settled in your heart, then even if you never sell it you have done the work you were meant to do. And sometime, dear readers, real magic happens.

Let me tell you about a picture book I recently wrote because of a haunting photograph I saw on line. If I had stopped to think about its saleability, I wouldn’t have started it. But I plunged in.

parisangelThe photograph was of an apartment house in Paris on which a three story, three-dimensional angel with widespread wings had been carved on the facade. There was a newspaper story about how the angel had been built and survived World War II.

I knew there was a story there, and three things leaped out at me: angel, Paris, World War II.

Before I knew it, I was beginning to write a picture book (40 page picture book at first which I eventually got down to the more ordinary 32 page format), called “The Stone Angel.” It was about a Jewish family and the daughter about six or seven narrates. The Nazis come in, the yellow stars, escape to the forest where they live with Partisans, and then their escape across the mountains to Spain and then to Britain where they stay in the country till war’s end. And on their return, the father’s job is reinstated and he finds an apartment in, yes, the angel building.

A picture book? Really? Not a novel? It sounds like the plot of a novel. Yeah, I kept hearing that in my head and I kept dismissing the idea. I finished the picture book, sent it editor Jill Santopolo who was doing my fairy tale novels. It was not her kind of thing at all.

And in two weeks, she’d bought the book, found an illustrator, helped me shrink the text to a 32 pager (saying, “I love this as a 40 page book and if we can’t make it work at 32 pages with the same power, I can make the case for the longer picture book.”).

But sometimes the magic works.

© 2013 by Jane Yolen, all rights reserved

guestbio

owlmoonJane Yolen is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl MoonThe Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

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.

Her website JaneYolen.com presents information about her over three 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.

Like this site? Please order one of my books! It supports me & my work!

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TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 26, 2022

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