Author Jane Yolen may be most famous for How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? — but she’s actually written so many books that you can read one each day for a year. She’s also a mom of three and a grandmother of six — so, you know, she’s pretty busy.
Yolen, 79, began writing children’s books more than 30 years ago. But she changed the game completely in 1988 with The Devil’s Arithmetic, a young adult Holocaust fantasy-ish novel (with nearly 2 million copies in print in the U.S. alone) that was unlike anything else. The book was even made into Emmy-winning Showtime film starring Kirsten Dunst.
Now she’s back with a new YA Holocaust novel for a new generation, Mapping the Bones. Set in the Lodz ghetto in Poland in 1942, the story focuses on 14-year-old twins Chaim and Gittel Abromowitz who are separated from their parents, captured by German soldiers, and imprisoned in a labor camp.
Reminiscent of Hansel & Gretel, Yolen uses the tropes of the dark fairy tale to create captivating historical fiction.
“Whenever we think of the Holocaust, we think of remembering,” she told our sister site, JTA. “We think of never forgetting. Soon all we will have are the stories. Soon we will have no one left who was there.”
We spoke with Yolen about her new book, her current obsessions, and what’s next on her plate.
How was writing Mapping the Bones different than your previous books?
It was much longer, darker, and required research in five totally separate areas. In the middle of writing, my backbone started collapsing on itself, and I had to have a seven-hour operation which ended up coming with four and a half months of anesthesia brain, which is sort of like early Alzheimer’s or chemo brain. (My back is totally fine now, thanks.)
How did you navigate making such a heavy and difficult topic like the Holocaust accessible for young adults?
Hopes and prayers! I don’t think I could have written this book before now, but after two previous Holocaust novels, I was prepared for the emotional dangers of living in that particular time capsule for such a long time.
What are you working on right now?
A number of picture books are cooking away, most of them positive, which helps for the recovery period from writing a Holocaust novel. Several books of poetry (including a Holocaust-themed collection of poems for adults).
What is your current obsession?
Several picture books to help launch the career of some new(ish) illustrators I love. And getting editors to buy some of the 20 unsold picture books I have.
What TV show have you binge watched?
Downton Abbey, anything with British history attached except for that awful Tudor thing, Black Sails, and The Great British Bake Off. But hardly any American shows.
Biggest pet peeve:
People who don’t know how to use the Oxford comma. And deniers: Holocaust deniers, climate-change deniers, and right-wing fanatics.
I wanted to be a prima ballerina, owner of a horse farm, and lawyer. I already knew I was a writer and storyteller.