Q: You've noted that Bear Outside was inspired by the art of illustrator Jen Corace. How did her illustration of a girl and a bear cause you to come up with this story?
A: I tell my students that ideas are everywhere. But a writer has to pay attention. As I do. And there was this perfect piece of art (a bit darker and a bit scarier than I made the book) but it began a story in my head the moment I saw it, my brain asking "Why is she inside the bear? Was she eaten or is she wearing the bear? If she's wearing it, why?
And suddenly I knew. She wears it to be brave. The first draft came hot on the heels of that knowing. It took endless more revisions, but that's another story altogether.
Q: This is your 400th book! How do you think you've been able to achieve this milestone? Are you usually working on multiple projects at one time?
A: In a sense one book at a time, but in reality, I usually
have a number of manuscripts going at the same time: perhaps two or three
picture books (some by myself, some with other writers), a novel or novella,
maybe a graphic novel, a nonfiction book, a book in verse, and two or
three easy readers.
This year, after the 400th comes out on March 2, I have three picture books, three easy readers, an adult poetry collection about the Holocaust, and a middle grade novel coming out. Also, there are about 30 sold books waiting to be illustrated and 130 manuscripts not yet sold. I am never at a loss for ideas, only time!
Q: What do you hope kids take away from Bear Outside?
A: That by using your powerful imagination, you can change your life. You can learn to be brave...by being a bear. A pretend bear.
Q: What first got you interested in creating children's books?
A: I fell into it, because I was already writing poetry, not prose, a great starting point for a picture book writer. Picture books are meant to be visual, metaphoric, short, compact, lyrical, and with an internal arc…just like poems.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A picture book about the life of an Arctic Tern, a
picture book with a granddaughter about girl power, a picture book with my
daughter called My Mama Is a Rabbi, a novel about a sea dragon off the Scottish
coast, a collection of love stories...and much, much more.
I thought you might like to share this poem about a bear written just for you and your readers in honor of the 400th book:
What the Bear Knows
Bees in a hive.
The sharpness of a sting.
Berries on the bushes.
The way the birds all sing.
A fish to catch at sunset,
The garbage in a bin.
The pathway to the cave
when the winter closes in.
©2021 Jane Yolen all rights reserved
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jane Yolen.