Jane Yolen: Author Study and Mini Lesson by Deborah Kimball

Deborah Kimball


Author Study: Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen is a prolific author.  To date she has published over three hundred books for children and young adults. She has been given two monikers: The Hans Christian Andersen of America and Aesop of the twentieth century for her contribution to the genre.  In addition to her works of children’s literature, she has also written works of science fiction and fantasy. Of course because she is such a prolific writer, she has also received many awards for her books and has had many honors and honorary degrees bestowed upon her.  Her many awards include, the World Fantasy award and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and the Caldecott Medal and the Nebula Award and the Christopher Medal and The Golden Kite Award and The World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award and The Association of Jewish Libraries Award.


Mrs. Yolen was born in New York City in 1939.  Her father was a writer for the newspapers and her mother had been a psychiatric social worker before she had children.  Her mother was also a writer.  She wrote short stories and crossword puzzle while she was a stay-at-home mom. Jane moved a lot when she was young: California, back to New York, Virginia, and Connecticut.  What I find curious is, Mrs. Yolen was also a great student.  Sometimes when she entered a new school and she found out she wasn’t as smart as she thought, so she had to work extra hard to rise to the top of the student body.  This happened several times as she moved around the country.   As a reader of her biography, I feel this contributed her becoming such a fine writer.  She constantly was challenged to be better. A better student. A better writer. She sold her first book she ever wrote at the age of 22.


Mrs. Yolen, now a widow, lives in Massachusetts and also has a home in Scotland which she lives in three months out of the year.  Her three children are grown and have given her six grandchildren.




Using Literary Strategies

Since I had the chance to compose Jane Yolen’s Biography for this assignment, I decided-hopefully not to my detriment- to try to employ a few of the writing techniques I had read about. In the first paragraph instead of using commas after all of her awards I separated all the awards with the word “and” to replicate The Items in a Series Strategy. And in the second paragraph, I used Artful Sentence Fragments to exclaim that her challenges at school made her a better student and writer. I also used a couple more to write this too! Who could resist that?






Literary Moves/Strategies


I have noticed that Jane Yolen often writes in circles. She starts in one place or time- the character moves on and then they come back to that place or time.


In Stone Angel the characters start out in Paris and then have to flee for their lives and end up in England.  After the war ends, they are able to return to Paris.


In The Devil’s Arithmetic, The character, Hannah, appears first at a Seder in her extended family’s’ apartment in Brooklyn in the 1990’s.  As the story progresses, Hannah time travels to 1942 in Poland and becomes Chaya. Chaya ends up in a concentration camp and gives her life so that her friend may live. At the end of the novel she returns to her family’s’ apartment in the 1990’s during the Seder.


In Owl Moon the characters start out at home and go into the woods late at night to go owling. They wander through the forest stopping and waiting. Finally an owl makes an appearance and the characters return home satisfied.


The Circle Structure

I think the writer uses this technique to bring closure to the story; in my own writing I could use this technique when developing the plot and setting of a story to make sure the story has closure.




I notice that the writer often uses made up words.

“The grass beneath our feet sang swee-swash, swee-swash, and we wore out many moccasins along the paths of the plains. – Sky Dogs


“Then he called: “Whoo-whoo-who-who-who-whooooooo, “the sound of a Great Horned Owl.Whoo-whoo-who-who-who-whooooooo.” – Owl Moon


Sound Word Strategy

I think the writer makes up words to convey sounds that aren’t words so she makes a word.  In my own writing I could use this strategy to make the descriptions of sounds more interesting for the reader





I noticed this writer uses the Artful use of And.

“And so, Djoew Seow sat by herself. And she talked by herself. And she played by herself, which is the loneliest thing of all.” – The Emperor and the Kite


And it was death to damage the kite. And it was death to say what was not written in the books and scrolls.”- The Seventh Mandarin


The Artful use of And

The author uses this technique, often repeatedly using it in short bursts, to make certain statements stand out as if to shout them to you and let the reader know the writer means for this to be important. I would use this in my writing to show certain passages to have important words I want the reader to know are important.







I noticed that the writer uses sentences that make a long story short.


“Then, side by side they stood before the priests and made their marriage vows. They lived many happy years, always remembering to honor both Artemis and Aphrodite, who had brought them together.”- Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls


The Time Travel Strategy

The author uses this technique to cover a lot of time with the fewest amount of words, I could use this in my writing if I were to write a fairytale or a time travel story.



Works Cited

“Jane Yolen — Author of Children’s Books, Fantasy, and Science Fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?” Jane Yolen — Author of Children’s Books, Fantasy, and Science Fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

Yolen, Jane, and Ed Young. The Seventh Mandarin. New York: Seabury, 1970. Print.

Yolen, Jane, and John Schoenherr. Owl Moon. New York: Scholastic, 2006. Print.

Yolen, Jane, and Katie May Green. Stone Angel. New York, NY: Philomel , an Imprint of Penguin Group (USA), 2015. Print.

Yolen, Jane, and Susan Guevara. Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls. San Diego: Harcourt, 2000. Print.

Yolen, Jane. The Devil’s Arithmetic. New York, NY: Puffin, 2004. Print.

Yolen, Jane. The Emperor and the Kite. Cleveland: World, 1967. Print.

Yolen, Jane. Sky Dogs. Place of Publication Not Identified: Harcourt Brace, 1991. Print






Focus Mini-Lesson

Jane Yolen



Introduction: Today boys and girls we are going to put on our writer’s hat.  Do you remember why we put on our writers hats?  That’s right! We are going to examine a book and look at how the writer uses special ways of writing to make her book more interesting. What do we call the “special ways” writers write? Yes we call them strategies. Today we are going to talk about a book we read yesterday by Jane Yolen. Yesterday we read her book Sky Dogs in our Social Studies Class to learn about life on the American Plains. Well today, we are going to look at just part of the book because we are going to examine one of Jane Yolen’s writing strategies.


Show: “The grass beneath our feet sang swee-swash, swee-swash, and we wore out many moccasins along the paths of the plains.”


Explain:  Now when I see those words “swee-swash, swee-swash” I think to myself why would Jane Yolen use those words there.  They are not even real words are they? I think she made up those words to describe the sounds the moccasins made on the path because she could think of a real word that would describe the sound well enough.


Teaching Point: I think Jane Yolen is not just a writer – she is also a word inventor. So I will call her strategy the Word Invention Strategy.

I think when good writers write stories sometimes they need to find a word for a sentence so that they can really give the reader of the text their exact meaning.  Sometimes finding a real word is very difficult even if you are a writer and a word specialist like Jane Yolen. So I think when Jane Yolen and other great writers struggle to find just the right word for their story sometimes they have to invent their own word!


Demonstration:  Now let’s look at another of Jane Yolen’s books- Owl Moon. In Owl Moon she also uses invented words to convey the sound the father makes while they are in the woods owling.  Listen.


Then he called: “Whoo-whoo-who-who-who-whooooooo,” the sound of a Great Horned Owl.Whoo-whoo-who-who-who-whooooooo.”


Does anyone know another author who may make up words?  Yes, Dr. Seuss makes up lots of words when he writes.


Guided Practice:

The students will use their whiteboards and markers with a buddy to try out the technique.

Okay I am going to show you a prompt on the board and I want you to discuss with your partner how you may use an invented word to make my sentence more appealing to a reader.  So first I would like you to read the sentence with your partner and then discuss where you would like to add an invented word. Then I would like you to brainstorm, with your partner, what that word would look and sound like.  Then I want you to write the new sentence on your whiteboards.


The soccer ball had made it almost through the goalpost, until Number 16 from the opposing team came out of nowhere with his size 9 cleats and stole our goal sending the ball soaring through the air.


In this case since it is just a word or two they will be inventing for practice I would use the butterfly technique described in our reading to visit with each group for a minute and listen to what they want to say and help steer them in the right direction.


After about 5 minutes I would bring the class together to let them share their new sentences.  This will reinforce the activity and help any students that may be struggling to invent a word.


Link: Now I would like everyone to go back to their seats and get out your writing folder.  I would like you to look at any writing projects you have in the revision pocket of your folder and see if there is a place in your writing that you could use and invented word to make your writing more interesting. When you have a place and a word in mind bring your work to the back table and we will conference about it.

After everyone has been able to revise a piece of writing in their writer’s notebook, we will come together with our reading buddies. We will have our reading buddies read one another’s work and discuss whether the invented word makes the story better. We will also have volunteers discuss their invented words with the class.


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