Like Yolen’s many other original fantasies and fairy tales, these stories strike the reader as being both familiar and strange, both old and new. With their simplicity of plot and characterization, their wondrous images from the realms of nature and magic, they are as accessible and appealing to children as traditional fairy tales. Yolen’s evocative poetic style and subtle but not simplistic morals attract older readers as well. Typical of many modern stories by feminists and children’s writers is the focus on young women and children who strive to find their place in the world and form meaningful relationships; they are often braver and wiser than their more powerful adversaries and relatives.
Beginning with settings remote in time and place, Yolen has interwoven familiar patterns from myth and folklore. Only “The Girl Who Cried Flowers” has a somewhat specific setting in ancient Greece, when people believed in tree spirits. “Dawn-Strider,” like a traditional pourquoi tale explaining the nature of the universe, tells how the sun established its daily course across the sky. “The Weaver of Tomorrow” dramatizes the old metaphor of time’s tapestries woven on a loom until death breaks the thread of each individual life. “The Lad Who Stared Everyone Down” is a cautionary tale about the dangers of pride; the growth and repetition of the boy’s boastful list of people whom he has stared down creates a cumulative pattern found in many folktales and children’s stories. As Yolen explained in “The Brothers Grimm and Sister Jane,” a 1993 essay about her lifelong reading of fairy tales, she was profoundly influenced by the Grimms’ story “The Three Little Men in the Woods” and “used the idea of something unnatural coming...
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Jane Yolen first became a leader in the revival of storytelling and fantasy writing in the 1960’s. These traditions had lost favor in the United States by the mid-twentieth century because of the spread of mass media, the growing popularity of psychological and social realism in children’s fiction, and adult concerns about the unrealistic content and damaging influences of many older tales. Yolen, a songwriter as well as a writer and editor of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, saw the storytelling revival as an outgrowth of the folk movement in the 1960’s. The Girl Who Cried Flowers and Other Tales appeared in 1974, the same year that the annual storytelling festival began in Jonesboro, Tennessee. The following year, Bruno Bettelheim’s extremely influential book The Uses of Enchantment, affirmed the literary and psychological importance of fairy tales for children. In her own defense of folklore and fantasy, Touch Magic (1981), Yolen compares magical stories to mirrors and many-faceted dreams; for young and old, they reflect both dark and light facets of the human condition, offering morals that are not easily seen.
After the success of this first collection and early picture books such as The Girl Who Loved the Wind (1972), Yolen wrote scores of other tales based on myths, legends, history, and folklore. They have appeared in picture books illustrated by many important artists and in collections by Yolen and others for children and adults. “The Weaver of Tomorrow” reappeared in Yolen’s Tales of Wonder (1983), a volume of short fantasies for adults. She has been compared to earlier writers such as Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde for her ability to weave traditional folk motifs into eloquent, evocative original tales that reflect symbolically the concerns of the author’s milieu. Yolen’s stories are important for both children and adults because they retain the utopian outlook of traditional fairy tales without ignoring the conflicts and complexities of human experience. Silent Bianca is like the heroine in many fairy tales by Yolen and other modern writers: Although misunderstood by others in her society, she is wise and brave and wins the heart of a man who is her equal.