Saturday, March 2, 2013

Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple: The Bad Girls of Children’s Literature

March 2 - Today's post contributed by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple

Illustration copyright © 2013
 by Rebecca Guay
Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple: The Bad Girls of Children’s Literature

Illustration copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Guay
(click to enlarge)
Mother daughter writing team Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple talk about how Bad Girls, their newest book, actually began. They were having a three-way email conversation about shoes with their friend, Charlesbridge editor Judy O’Malley.  The conversation was based on Heidi and Judy’s love of high heeled ‘bad girl’ shoes and Jane’s inability to wear them. The conversation quickly turned into (as such dialogues often do in literary friendships) an idea for a book . . .

Heidi: After the initial conversation, we got down to the hard work of researching and writing the book itself. We split the women down the middle. That sounds bloody. What I mean is: we each chose the women who interested us and did the research and writing separately. Then we sent (via email) our pieces to each other to edit and polish. At the end, when we had the whole book together in one manuscript, it read as if it was written by two people. That wouldn’t work for the reader. So, I took the whole thing to a coffee shop and “washed” it into one voice—brought my writing a bit closer to my mom’s voice and hers to meet mine. And now we can no longer tell which one of us did the initial writing on some of the particular pieces. I call that a success.

Once everything was written and edited, we all argued about the order of the entries. I fought for keeping them in date order. I thought that alphabetical order would destroy the book (OK, I am prone to exaggeration) because it would take away the “context” which we discuss in practically all the comic panels. The historical context of each Bad Girl’s crimes (be that crime murder or some other mayhem) is very important. Flip through the final book . . . I won this argument.  

Jane: We decided early on that as Women of Snark (it’s in the genes, my mother was snarky, too, and all my girl cousins have a double dose of it on both sides of the family) that we would adopt that as our single voice. 

Heidi: What you call “snarky” I prefer to think of as “sassy.”

Jane: Well, we “sassified” the manuscript, with Heidi leading the way. Then we convinced the new editor (Judy had gone on to other things and we were now working with Yolanda Scott) that our friend and neighbor Rebecca Guay, with whom we’d already done a book, would be a sensational illustrator. Yolanda agreed and because she knew that Rebecca did comics, thought we should restructure the boxed conversations between Heidi and me at the end of each chapter into comic book form.

Rebecca was supposed to be doing black-and-white pictures but was having so much fun, she asked if she could do them in color instead. Everyone at Charlesbridge thought that was a terrific idea and Yolanda managed to find the extra money to print them.

See how many unexpected things go into the making of a book? My mantra is: Stay Loose and in the Moment!

Heidi: I thought your mantra was BIC—Butt in Chair. Meaning, Sit down and do the work.  Either way, the book, the final product, is a dream come true. I can’t wait to share it with readers.  I can’t wait to read it aloud at bookstores and libraries. I can’t wait to shop for some new shoes to wear to these events . . . Can’t show up in anything less than spectacular!  

Illustration copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Guay

Illustration copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Guay 
Illustration copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Guay

Illustration copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Guay

Editor's Note:
(from Charlesbridge)

Jane Yolen is the award-winning author of nearly three hundred children's books, including Snow, Snow: Winter Poems (Boyds Mills) and The Rogues (Philomel). She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of the Americas. Jane lives in Western Massachusetts and Scotland.
Heidi E. Y. Stemple

Heidi E. Y. Stemple is the author of more than a dozen children’s books, several co-authored with her mother, Jane Yolen. Recent titles include Pretty Princess Pig and Not All Princesses Dress in Pink. Heidi lives in western Massachusetts.

Acclaimed for her mastery of comics, Rebecca Guay has illustrated many books for children, including A Flight of Angels, The Last Dragon, and Goddesses. Rebecca lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.


  1. Thanks so much to both of you for this fun post! I love the book! Lisa

  2. Thanks for a great post! I can't wait to read this one--and to put it in the hands of kids! I love the look of the artwork, too!

  3. I need a copy badly! There are not enough great graphic novels for girls and those who are reluctant readers as well desperately seek these out!

  4. I think this will really appeal to girls who are in to manga, the teenage years are a great time to read about powerful and influential women.

  5. Sounds like n interesting book! I'll be on the lookout for it.

  6. I'm wearing flats & would rather be the kind of gal who knows how to balance in the hottest Cori Amenta shoe, but still, I wantwantwant badly to grab a copy & know which gals made your BAD GIRLS hall of fame.
    Fun interview! This means an even more fun graphic novel is tucked inside the catchy cover. Brava to Jane, Heidi & to Rebecca. This is going to be a girls' book club favorita.