Kirsti Call: As my mentor and friend, you are an inspiration! This is your 400th book. How does it feel to make it to 400?
Jane Yolen: Not exactly a surprise since by the time we celebrated books 365-366 (Read a new book of Jane Yolen’s every day for a year–even on a leap year!) I already had 30 more booked under contract and waiting in the wings. But still a surprise, mostly that I am alive to see it happen and at 82 with a new husband and a fresh life. (My first husband died fifteen years ago.)
KC: As a marriage and family therapist, I love bibliotherapeutic books. What was the inspiration for BEAR OUTSIDE?
JY: Actually, it was not therapy. I was looking at illustrators who did great bears for a different book of mine—A BEAR SAT ON MY PORCH TODAY—different editor, different kind of picture book, different publisher—and came across Jen Corace’s website. Loved her work immediately—and there was a picture of a little girl peering out of a bear’s mouth. It wasn’t the right sensibility for PORCH, but I carried that picture in my mind for about a year before writing the story. Told it to Neal Porter, an editor I had always wanted to work with. He looked the artist up and asked her if she would illustrate the book EVEN BEFORE he told me he was buying the book!!!
KC: The first sentences of your book are: “Some folks have a lion inside,or a tiger. Not me.” What kind of animal do you have on the inside? Or do you wear your animal on the outside like your main character?
JY: I think I carry some sort of cat or horse, depending which day. Cat for comfort. Horse when I need speed.
KC: How do you balance writing and marketing your books?
JY: It’s a challenge! I adore writing. I want nothing more than to be deep inside a new book or books. But marketing means going outside of any number of my comfort zones and it takes me away from the writing. It means turning on Outside Jane and turning off Inside Jane. But I do it because it helps introduce more people, more kids, to books. I think most writers, most artists are inside, not outside people. We turn all our passion and laser focus on the story or poem or piece of art we are doing. Then we look out the bear’s mouth and go—yeah, time to see the world through bear’s eyes, speak through bear’s mouth.
KC: What advice would you give aspiring authors?
JY: Do not give up. You will get better the more you write. Ideas are everywhere, but each writer puts her or his own spin on that idea. Put your passion where your idea is. If someone rejects the story, take it and move on to the next and the next editor. Dr. Seuss’s first book was turned down by over 30 editors. And think how much the world of children’s books would have missed if he had given up. In the end, writing books for young people is not about the individual author or illustrator, it’s about the story that unfolds between book and reader (or read-to). Because stories can stick with a child for the rest of their lives. It’s an honor to be part of that!
KC: Thank you, Jane. And thanks for sharing a new bear poem with us.
Seeing Through The Bear’s Eyes
Light, like an eyeball, from the cave’s opening. Bits of green poking through the snow. Everything is waking up. The long sleep is over. I will have a meal. I will say a poem. It will be about bears, because what else matters?
@2021 Jane Yolen all rights reserved
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Jane Yolen’s books and stories and poems have won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, three World Fantasy Awards, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, two Golden Kite Awards, the Jewish Book Award and the Massachusetts Center for the Book award. She has also won the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Science Fiction Writers of America’s Grand Master Award, and the Science Fiction Poetry Associations Grand Master Award (the three together she calls the Trifecta). Plus she has won both the Association of Jewish Libraries Award and the Catholic Libraries Medal. Also the DuGrummond Medal and the Kerlan Award, and the Ann Izard story-telling award at least three times. Six colleges and universities have given her honorary doctorates for her body of work, so–she jokingly says–you could call her Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Yolen though she can’t set a leg. However, she does warn about winning too many awards as one of them set her good coat on fire. If you meet her, you can ask about that!