The Magic Touch: A Conversation with Jane Yolen

More often than not, a Jane Yolen book

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pulls kids into a world of possibility – from ghosts fighting compost monsters to unicorns, wizards and all things fairy-tale. But while many of Yolen’s nearly 250 books dabble in magic and fantasy, she doesn’t believe in magic herself – though she does believe magic is a fun metaphor to show readers something about a character or setting.

“Do I believe there were really dragons? Fairies? No,” she says. “Do I believe that there are people who have dragon personalities or fairy personalities? Absolutely. Have I ever met an angel or a ghost? No. But I have met people who I would call angels and I have met people who have that kind of presence that makes you think that they’re not really here and maybe that they feel like a ghost.”

For 40 years, Yolen has written books for all ages – from rhymed board books for infants to adult novels and (literally) everything in between. The impact of her work is reflected in the numerous awards she has won, including the Caldecott Medal, Nebula Awards, a Golden Kite Award and Christopher Medals.

The Power of Stories
For Yolen, stories aren’t just an entertaining way to spend a rainy afternoon or the last thing to do before your little ones drift off to sleep, they’re a powerful teachitool for everything from literacy skills to building character.

And, whether it’s fairy tales, more modern tales or stories from the Bible, Yolen believes that stories have the ability to change the world – by affecting the masses all at once or by changing one person at a time.

“You look at the Bible, you look at the New Testament – and whether you believe them as absolute or whether you believe them as relative, you have to admit that those are stories that have changed the world,” Yolen says. “They’ve changed the way people have seen themselves, their communities, their lives and helped them change for good or for bad what has gone on in the world.”

Kids and Reading
For Yolen, there’s no such thing as a child who doesn’t like to read – the trick is finding the right materials to instill a lifelong love of reading.
Reading starts in the home, with parents who read aloud to their children even well after the kids can read to themselves, and continues in the classroom with periods of sustained reading where everybody, teacher included, is doing the reading of their choosing.

“If you find the books that will speak to whatever their interests are,” Yolen says, “you can lead them anywhere.”

See also: A Jane Yolen Reading List