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Readers Reflect: Jane Yolen

September 2, 2010

“Readers Reflect,” is a weekly post by a guest blogger reflecting on a formative book, character, or reading experience that has been particularly meaningful in their life as a reader. To submit your own “Readers Reflect” essay, please contact us at courtskids@gmail.com.

Today we welcome beloved children’s author, Jane Yolen. who has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century.  She has written over 300 books, won numerous awards, given  six honorary doctorates in literature, and got to spend a day in a studio with Kevin Kline while he did voice over for one of her animated stories. On a personal note, Ms. Yolen’s “How do Dinosaur’s Love Their Dogs?” is a HUGE hit at our house. Colin loves it so much my husband and I both have it memorized.

I was a huge reader as a child and nothing in my parents library was kept from me. So I read Thomas Mann’s JOSEPH IN EGYPT at 8 when I was also reading E. Nesbit’s FIVE CHILDREN AND IT; THE RUBIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM  with pictures by edmund Dulac at 7 when I was also reading THE OWL & THE PUSSYCAT. If it was a book and had words (and pictures which were a wonderful plus) I read it.

Along the way, I became enamored of reading both stories and poetry, a love which has lasted till now (I am 71.) However, the five books that have influenced me the most as a writer are: Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Andersen’s fairy tales, the fairy tales of Isak Dinesen, the Complete Emily DIckinson, and James Thurber’s THE THIRTEEN CLOCKS. What they all have in common is magic, glorious language, and a protean stock of imagery that has sustained me and fed me as a writer. If I had to name another five books, those would probably include Stevenson’s TREASURE ISLAND, Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN, Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, the poems of W. B. Yeats, and MOBY DICK. Landscape, character, and “something always going on” which was cited by a bunch of English school children as a definition of plot. I love to be taken out of myself into other worlds, times, and the minds of fascinating people. Having adventures while safe in my house. Being wrapped in munchy prose or in the possibility of poetry that lifts you into the arms of angels.

When we asked Ms. Yolen, “What do you hope readers take away from your books?” she shared: All the things I loved in other books: story, poetry, new worlds, new insights, characters to love and remember. I am honored when I hear of a book of mine has become a beloved part of a person’s growing days. I am stunned when I hear that a book of mine has helped a child heal, or go to bed, or communicate his or her fears. I love hearing I have made someone laugh and cry, sometimes both at the same time.  I don’t want to teach anything or preach a moral. I just want to tell a good story, write a fine poem. And if I am successful, I hope I hear about it some day. Emily Dickinson has a poem that begins “This is my letter to the World  that never wrote to me. . .” And sometimes a writer feels that way, sending out stories and poems and essays and little pieces out into the world, hoping that someone reads them, but not expecting an answer. And yet, sometimes, there is an answer. And that is the best part of the day.


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