Sunday, February 11, 2007

February 11: Jane Yolen (b. 1939)

Author Jane Yolen, holding a picture book
Prolific American writer Jane Yolen, born on this date 68 years ago, in New York City, is best known for her children's books based on folklore, and her young-adult books about the Holocaust (The Devil's Arithmetic and Briar Rose, both found on high-school reading lists across the US). But among her over 200 books are some illustrated titles that address disability themes. All of these are, sadly, out of print, but may be available in public libraries or secondhand through the usual channels. Look out for:
  • The Boy who had Wings (1974) is considered deformed by his herding village, until he saves his father during a storm and becomes a hero (illustrated by Helga Aichinger)
  • The Seeing Stick (1977), in which a blind Chinese princess learns to "grow eyes on the tips of her fingers" with the help of an old wizard (illustrated by Demtra Marsalis)
  • The Sultan's Perfect Tree (1977) teaches that perfection is a dangerous goal for any living thing, because it means the end of growing and changing (illustrated by Barbara Garrison)
  • The Mermaid's Three Wisdoms (1978), in which a deaf girl rejects sign language until she meets a mermaid, who explains to her that speech is useless underwater, and all the mer-people sign with fluid beauty (illustrated by Laura Rader)
  • Greyling (1991) is about a seal-boy, a selchie, "a strange child with great grey eyes and silvery hair," whose unique makeup suits him for the rescue of his father at sea (there are editions variously illustrated by William Stobbs and by David Ray)
  • Good Griselle (1994), about a lonely woman in medieval Paris, asked to raise "the ugliest child she had ever seen"--in fact, he's a small gargoyle in disguise, but together they find happiness (illustrated by David Christiana)
[Note: I compiled this list originally for a short journal article, "'Even Good Mothers Come to Grief Over Such': Jane Yolen's Good Griselle," Disability Studies Quarterly 24(1)(Winter 2004), but thought I'd share it here too, in observation of Yolen's birthday, and to make it more widely available.--PLR]


Anonymous said...

I always enjoyed reading Jane Yolen's books with my children,including some of those you mentioned (they weren't out of print 15-20 years ago). Even though I was reading with 2 children with disabilities, I never thought of her books as being books about disability, until you mention it now. I always treasured her respect for humanity and deep appreciation for diversity. What a great author.


Hannah said...

How wonderful to know! I love the few books of hers I have read. Off to the library for some more!

Mike Dorn said...

I hope everyone takes the opportunity to check out another Disability Studies birthday Stephanie Cooper, inspired by Penny Richards' ongoing series, and this profile of Jane Yolen in particular. Awesome and touching. MD

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