Jane Yolen "able to fly home without a plane" after receiving prestigious deGrummond Medal

By Michael Strickland

“We all have such stories. It is a brutal arithmetic. But I - I am alive. You are alive. As long as we breathe, we can see and hear. As long as we can remember, all those gone before are alive inside us.”
Jane Yolen, The Devil's Arithmetic

Jane Yolen, who has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the 20th century, received the top award, the Southern Miss Medallion, at The 45th annual Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival. Yolen has written more than 300 books and won numerous awards including the coveted Caldecott Medal, and is the recipient of six honorary doctorates in literature.

"To everyone ... who has helped me this one of the more memorable few days of my literary life: I will be able to fly home without a plane, I am so high from the experience," Yolen posted on her Facebook page. "And to my old and comforting "sister" Rebecca Dotlich and my new "sister" Deborah Pope, my old (really old) friends Don and Anita and Margery and my newish friend Denise and the adorable new writers and illustrators who won the Ezra Jack Keats awards, and everyone else--what a trip. In all senses of the word."

The 45th annual Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival is being held April 11-13 at the Thad Cochran Center on The University of Southern Mississippi’s Hattiesburg campus. It is presented by the university’s School of Library and Information Science and de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.
Born and raised in New York City, Jane Yolen now lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts. She attended Smith College and received her master's degree in education from the University of Massachusetts. The distinguished author of more than 170 books, Jane Yolen is a person of many talents. When she is not writing, Yolen composes songs, is a professional storyteller on the stage, and is the busy wife of a university professor, the mother of three grown children, and a grandmother. Active in several organizations, Yolen has been on the Board of Directors of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, was president of the Science Fiction Writers of America from 1986 to 1988, is on the editorial board of several magazines, and was a founding member of the Western New England Storytellers Guild, the Western Massachusetts Illustrators Guild, and the Bay State Writers Guild.

For twenty years, she ran a monthly writer's workshop for new children's book authors. In 1980, when Yolen was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree by Our Lady of the Elms College in Chicopee, Massachusetts, the citation recognized that "throughout her writing career she has remained true to her primary source of inspiration--folk culture." Folklore is the "perfect second skin," writes Yolen. "From under its hide, we can see all the shimmering, shadowy uncertainties of the world." Folklore, she believes, is the universal human language, a language that children instinctively feel in their hearts. All of Yolen's stories and poems are somehow rooted in her sense of family and self. The Emperor and the Kite, which was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1983 for its intricate papercut illustrations by Ed Young, was based on Yolen's relationship with her late father, who was an international kite-flying champion.
Owl Moon, winner of the 1988 Caldecott Medal for John Schoenherr's exquisite watercolors, was inspired by her husband's interest in birding. Yolen's graceful rhythms and outrageous rhymes have been gathered in numerous collections. She has earned many awards over the years: the Regina Medal, the Kerlan Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Society of Children's Book Writers Award, the Mythopoetic Society's Aslan Award, the Christopher Medal, the Boy's Club Jr. Book Award, the Garden State Children's Book Award, the Daedalus Award, a number of Parents' Choice Magazine Awards, and many more.

Her books and stories have been translated into Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Afrikaans, !Xhosa, Portuguese, and Braille. Yolen's versatility is that factor that led her to be called "America's Hans Christian Andersen," Yolen, the child of two writers, is a gifted and natural storyteller.

The 26th annual Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and New Illustrator Book Awards were also presented at this year’s festival. This year’s recipient of Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Winner was Meg Medina for Tía Isa Wants a Car; the recipient of the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award Winner (and New Writer Honor) is Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw for Same, Same but Different. Margery Cuyler, an award-winning children’s book author and publisher at Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, will be the guest presenter.

For the first time in the history of the Ezra Jack Keats Book Awards, honorable mentions were awarded, including 2012 New Writer Honor - Nicola Winstanley for Cinnamon Baby; 2012 New Writer and New Illustrator Honor - Anna Witte (writer), Micha Archer (illustrator) for Lola’s Fandango; and 2012 New Illustrator Honor - David Ercolini for Not Inside this House!

Other authors who spoke at the festival along with Yolen include Margery Cuyler, 2012 de Grummond Children's Literature Collection Lecturer; Caroline Herring, 2012 Coleen Salley Storytelling Award Recipient; and Matt de la Peña, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Denise Fleming, Jennifer Holm, and Anita Silvey.

Perhaps the best explanation for her outstanding accomplishments comes from Jane Yolen herself: "I don't care whether the story is real or fantastical. I tell the story that needs to be told."