Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 842
The award-winning Armageddon Summer represents the first collaborative effort of prolific authors Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville. Both are primarily fantasists whose publishing credits reflect a strong interest in literature for children and young adults. The life stories of both authors include a childhood love of books and writing in which family influences play a part. Yolen particularly claims an interest in religious matters that developed in her early years. Although both authors are equally responsible for Armageddon Summer, they agree that Yolen conceived the idea and led the way.
Yolen was born in New York City, New York, on February 11, 1939, into a Jewish family gifted in storytelling and writing. Her father, Will Hyatt Yolen, worked as a journalist and publicist and wrote books and radio scripts. Her mother, Isabelle Berlin Yolen, liked to write stories and develop puzzles and acrostics (taking the first or last letter of a word and creating a word or phrase from that). Encouraged by her parents, Yolen read fairy tales and studied music at an early age. She wrote the musical for her first-grade class. As an eighth-grader at Hunter, a New York school for gifted girls, she composed a paper in rhyme, as well as wrote a nonfiction piece about pirates and a seventeen-page western novel. Yolen's first book Pirates in Petticoats, published in 1963, grew from these efforts.
During her high school years in Westport, Connecticut, Yolen pursued her writing and won an English prize. At this time she also developed her lasting interest in diverse religions. She was impressed by the Quaker religion when an adored cousin-in-law gave her a copy of the journal of George Fox, its founder. She attended church with a Roman Catholic friend. The observances became a source for the rituals Yolen later wove into her stories and fairy tales. She once noted that The Magic Three of Solatia, published in 1974, is a blend of Jewish, Quaker, and Roman Catholic elements. Yolen has published a number of books, including novels and a children's biography of George Fox, that reflect her enduring interest in religious subjects.
Yolen attended Smith College, where she took courses in religion, and graduated with a bachelor of arts in 1960. She received a contract for her first book in 1962, the year she married computer science professor David Stemple. Their three grown children have all collaborated with Yolen on songs and books. Yolen's background also includes a master's degree in education in 1976 from the University of Massachusetts and doctoral work in children's literature. Yolen has gained a reputation as an editor, critic, lecturer, and educator as well as the creator of short stories, nonfiction books, novels, poems, plays, fairy tales, and songs. She has served in important capacities in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the Science Fiction Writers Association, among other groups. She has received numerous awards, including the Mythopoeic Society Award, a Christopher Medal, and the University of Minnesota's Kerlan Award.
Although best known for fantasies and highly innovative literary fairy tales, Yolen continues to conceive books with serious religious themes. News stories about millennialist groups led Yolen to the idea for Armageddon Summer. When she decided to proceed with the novel, she contacted Coville, a longtime close friend, to write alternating chapters with her. By then he also had received numerous literary honors, including numerous state children's choice awards. The authors enjoyed writing together in a competitive spirit. According to Yolen, she and Coville resemble the major characters Marina and Jed whose episodes they supply in the novel. Yolen went through Marina's spiritual passage; Coville, who is a Unitarian, went through Jed's.
Coville was born May 16, 1950, in Syracuse, New York. His father, Arthur J. Coville, was a traveling sales engineer and his mother, Jean Chase Coville, an executive secretary. Coville nurtured his imaginative spirit by playing in the woods and buildings on his grandparents' dairy farm near Phoenix in central New York. He began to love books when his father read him a "Tom Swift" novel. Besides the "Tom Swift" books, Coville avidly read Mary Poppins, Dr. Dolittle, the "Hardy Boys" and "Nancy Drew" series, The Black Stallion, and all sorts of comics. He began to enjoy writing when a sixth-grade teacher assigned a long story and let each student choose the topic.
Coville was in his late teens when he realized that he wanted to write books in order to give children the reading pleasure he experienced at their age. In 1969 he married artist Katherine Dietz, with whom he has had three children. She has illustrated many of his books since the first one they sold, The Foolish Giant, published in 1978. Since then Coville has published numerous books as well as musical plays. He taught elementary school before becoming a full-time writer. He and Yolen share the philosophy that young people can be educated through literature that contains mythic elements. Both authors also believe that there is a dearth of stories for young people that deal honestly with religious faith. Armageddon Summer represents an effort to fill the gap they perceive.
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