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Yolen, Jane

Entry updated 6 March 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1939-    ) US author who began publishing poems and articles when still in college, and who first came to notice with books for children, the first of many being Pirates in Petticoats (1963). Of her circa 365 titles to date, many of which have won awards in her field, most are for children (see listing below for some of these), many of them being picture books for younger children; most of her adult fiction, of which she has written relatively little, is Fantasy, told in a style whose accomplished and eloquent transparency often conveys a sense that folktales are being recollected in tranquillity [for Fairytale and Twice-Told below see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Her sf is mostly restricted to two series: the Commander Toad sequence of Space Operas for young readers beginning with Commander Toad in Space (1980 chap), which does feature amphibians, and does take place in space; and the Young Adult Pit Dragon Planetary Romance sequence beginning with Dragon's Blood (1982), whose young protagonist, raised in servitude, gains his freedom by breeding a great fighting dragon (see Supernatural Creatures). This entry does not, therefore, refer in detail to the vast body of her work; the Checklist below is very highly selected.

Her work for adults is limited in quantity. The Hundredth Dove and Other Tales (coll 1976 chap) and Tales of Wonder (coll 1983) assemble typical work for older readers, some of it sf; as does Merlin's Booke (coll of linked stories 1986), set in the world of the eponymous magus [for Arthur and Merlin see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. She won a Nebula for best short story with "Sister Emily's Lightship" (in Starlight 1, anth 1996, ed Patrick Nielsen Hayden), and for best novelette with "Lost Girls" (in Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast, coll 1997), both of which were assembled with other tales as Sister Emily's Lightship and Other Stories (coll 2000); later short fiction, with some earlier work, has been assembled as The Emerald Circus (coll 2017), How to Fracture a Fairy Tale (coll 2018) and The Midnight Circus (coll 2020), the latter volume assembling stories for adults dating back as far as 1974.

The Great Alta sequence – Sister Light, Sister Dark (1988) and White Jenna (1989), assembled as The Book of Great Alta (omni 1990), plus The One-Armed Queen (1989). The Great Alta sequence – Sister Light, Sister Dark (1988) and White Jenna (1989), assembled as The Book of Great Alta (omni 1990) – is adult fantasy. The Devil's Arithmetic (1988) adheres to a Time-Travel frame which conveys its young protagonist back to 1942 Poland, where she experiences being a Jew in that country at that time (see Holocaust Fiction); it was filmed as The Devil's Arithmetic (1999) directed by Donna Deitch. Briar Rose (1992) is a Twice-Told version of the tale of Sleeping Beauty, set within the context of the Final Solution, and ultimately amenable to a non-fantasy reading. Her most sf-like novel, Cards of Grief (fixup 1984), is a sophisticated Planetary Romance in which an intense and story-bound race is observed by humans from an off-planet station, and is inevitably affected by the interaction of species. In none of Yolen's work, however, is there a sense that sf dominates the sometimes complex generic mix; she is a fantasy writer who visits sf but does not stay. In 2009 she received the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, and in 2017 the SFWA Grand Master Award. [JC]

see also: Rhysling Award; Skylark Award.

Jane Hyatt Yolen

born New York: 11 February 1939

works (highly selected)


Commander Toad

Robot and Rebecca

Pit Dragon

The Books of Great Alta

  • Sister Light, Sister Dark (New York: Tor, 1988) [short version first appeared in Heroic Visions (anth 1983) edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson: Books of Great Alta: hb/Dennis Nolan]
  • White Jenna (New York: Tor, 1989) [partially based on short story that first appeared in Heroic Visions (anth 1983) edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson as "Sister Light, Sister Dark": Books of Great Alta: hb/Dennis Nolan]
  • The One-Armed Queen (New York: Tor, 1989) [Books of Great Alta: hb/Dennis Nolan]

individual titles

collections and stories

works as editor


Harper Young Adult


individual titles as editor



previous versions of this entry

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