Saturday, April 28, 2012

5Q Poet Interview Series: Jane Yolen

Our 5Q Poet Interview series for National Poetry Month concludes with this interview with Jane Yolen about her new book, Bug Off Creepy, Crawly Poems. Graduate student Lisa Cockrell offers this interview (plus) with Jane.

Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen is a poet and author of many great books. She has been writing poetry since she was in preschool, although she recites her first poem stating that it was not good. But she could rhyme! Her experience in writing includes newspaper work, music lyrics, novels, and of course, poetry. Currently the number of books she has authored is more than 300. She has obviously influenced her children as well - two of the three are also authors. Her third child, her son Jason, has illustrated many books with his magnificent photography, including some of Jane’s books. This incredibly talented author is a positive model of how writing can be learned and honed by anyone who is willing to practice and put in the time. Ms. Yolen has authored books, such as Owl Moon, that are in children’s collections nation-wide. Most of us are probably familiar with her work, but may not be aware that this author has written so many good works in a variety of formats and for so many audiences.

There are many online sources for reading or watching interviews and biographies about Jane Yolen including:

Video interviews

Jane Yolen has a new poetry book that will be published this spring. Bug Off Creepy, Crawly Poems is a delightful book with fantastic photographs as illustrations. Poem subjects include flies, the praying mantis, butterflies, ants, honey bees, love bugs, spiders, and even tics! Many more insects and bugs are included in this great collection of poems that are geared toward children. Two professional reviews praise this new collection to Yolen’s work.

Kirkus Reviews
(March 15, 2012) said, “Mother and son collaborate once more (Birds of a Feather, 2011, etc.), creating a group of poems and photographs that celebrate some well-known creepy crawlies. Fly, praying mantis, butterfly, ants, honey bee, love bug, daddy longlegs, spider, dragonfly, tick, ladybug and grasshopper each take a spread, the photo opposite a page of text that includes the poem and a paragraph of facts. Most of Yolen's poems rhyme, and an author's note encourages readers to create their own poems, with a caution that they choose their words wisely, using the lightning-versus--lightning bug quote from Mark Twain to support this. Stemple's photographs are the true stars of this book. His macro views show such details as the rainbow colorations on a fly's wings, the serrations on a grasshopper's rear legs and the many units that make up the love bug's compound eyes. A bug-themed companion to their previous collaborations.”

Publishers Weekly (Feb 27, 2012) states, “The team behind A Mirror to Nature and Wild Wings offers another striking pairing of poems and photographs about the natural world, in this case the mysterious lives of insects. Each poem (and photograph) is a careful observation of its subject, whether a graceful butterfly ("A tutu-clad dancer,/ I move with lightness") or a tick ("The tick is mostly mouth,/ and if he lands on you/ he'll try to suck your blood,/ 'cause that's what all ticks do"). Each spread also includes a short prose passage with additional information and observations. Regarding a swarm of insects, Yolen writes, "Jason and I don't actually know which bugs are swarming or why.... Sometimes nature is like that."

I conducted a brief, five question interview via email with Ms. Yolen. The questions and answers are below.

1. Why/how did you choose the subject matter of this new book - insects? Are all of the poems related to bugs or nature in general?

I was looking through Jason's photographs (he's my youngest child and a professional photographer) and saw he had a number of photos of insects. So it was a natural to think there could be a book there.

2. What do you think kids will like most about this collection?

The eeeeeeeuu factor of the insects’ photos and the humor in the poems. Kids tend to like humor in their poetry more than the quieter, more introspective poems, but by mixing the kinds of poems up, I hope to introduce them to some more serious poems as well.

3. Are the poems in this book best read by children, to children, or with children?
Short answer: YES. All of the above.

4. I know you have written many books that children, do you anticipate children will embrace this one as well as some of your previous works?

It is a hope devoutly to be wished!

5. Which to you find more interesting (or fulfilling), writing poetry or other forms of fiction (picture books, novels, etc.)? 

I prefer writing short form things--picture books, poetry short stories. But these days, in order to sell books, it is mostly novels that are being bought. So that's what I am currently writing.

Sample Poem
Although I enjoyed each poem in the collection, I really enjoyed the first one, “Oh, Fly.” Perhaps it spoke to me because I can relate - at least about being relieved that it did not land on my food! Jane Yolen purposefully uses words that clearly and succinctly share her ideas and in doing so, she uses words that will stretch children’s vocabularies. This poem uses the phrase, “a vector of disease” which gives teachers a great opportunity to help learners find meanings for unfamiliar words. Children everywhere have seen flies and can relate to the theme of this poem.

Oh, Fly
by Jane Yolen

Oh, fly,
You flew
My leaf
And not
My food.
What a relief!
For on my food
You’d bring me grief
As you’re
A vector of
But you on leaf?
My mind’s at ease.
And there is much
To please
My eye.
For oh, you are
A lovely fly.
Do not go
And multiply.

Sharing the poem
There are many great ways to share and extend this poem with children. The teacher could write the word “multiply” on a paper or the board and lead a discussion about the possible uses and meanings for the word. This could be the lead-in to a discussion about a picnic or a barbeque and how flies are often attracted to our food. Allow students to share about their experiences with such situations. Talk about how they feel when they see a fly, maybe hoping it will not land on them or their food. When a discussion has taken place, share the poem with the students. After sharing the poem, children could draw a picture of a fly or a scene where people are eating and flies are around and how they seem to multiply, seemingly bringing their “friends” with them to share the feast.

Further literature connections could be made by sharing familiar stories such as There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly or other poems about flies. Of course, the lesson could be extended and expanded to include other insects included in this new collection, Bug Off Creepy, Crawly Poems.

Cover image: located through google images
Biographical information:

Image credit:;

Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2012. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Robyn Hood Black said...

These collaborations between Jane Yolen and son Jason Stemple are so stunning - this one is sure to be another hit. I look forward to reading it and enjoying the amazing photographs, even if a little creepy.... Thanks for the post and interview!