The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Meet Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple

Where: MainStreet BookEnds, 16 E. Main St., Warner, 456-2700,
When: Friday, Dec. 4, at 3:30 p.m.

All in the family
Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple take on Warner

By Kelly Sennott

Massachusetts author Jane Yolen is most famous for solo titles like Owl Moon and The Devil’s Arithmetic, but today she does a lot of writing with her now-grown children Heidi, Adam and Jason Stemple.

This year, she completed two major projects with her kids. One was You Nest Here With Me, written with Heidi Stemple and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Another, with contributions from all Stemple kids, was Animal Stories, which contained tales about animals like Balto the Alaska sled dog and  Greyfriars Bobby.
“It’s wonderful writing with my kids because it’s added another level to our relationship. When we’re tired of saying, ‘How are the kids doing?’ and ‘Did you get over your cold?’ … there’s this other thing always going on,” Yolen said during a phone interview with Heidi Stemple last week. “When they each came into this part of the business, I was thrilled. I only wish their dad was still alive to see how well they’re doing.”
Mother and daughter of this writing family visit MainStreet BookEnds Friday, Dec. 4, to talk about some of their more recent and famous works. Shop owner Katharine Nevins was more than happy when they reached out; she remembers their last visit, in 2002, when they read Owl Moon to a crowd of kids, who were mesmerized by the tale about a girl and her father crunching through cold woods at night to go owling. At the end of the reading, Yolen’s husband, David Stemple, performed an owl call from the back of the room. 
“The reason we did that — brought the entire family — is because the entire family is part of Owl Moon,” Yolen said. “Heidi is the child in Owl Moon and my husband was Pa in Owl Moon.”
Yolen said theirs is also a birding family, thanks to her late husband. He really did bring the kids out owling when they were young, and the critters, not coincidentally, made their way into many of Yolen’s children’s books, alongside her dinosaurs, unicorns, monsters and historical characters. Heidi Stemple still organizes a team for the Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count, waking up at midnight and counting until sunrise. Her record is 67.
“I’m willing to make hot chocolate or coffee, but I’m not willing to go out with them,” Yolen said. “[David] grew up in West Virginia, and I grew up in New York, where the birds are pigeons.”
Nevins said she received positive reactions when she announced Yolen and her daughter would be coming to town again, among teachers especially; lots of their books are history-based and educational, ideal for today’s Common Core standards. One of Heidi Semple’s favorite collaborative series was Unsolved Mysteries from History, which told of the Wolf Girls and the Salem Witch Trials and enabled her to tap into her past career as a private investigator. Another series that just came out in paperback, Bad Girls, is an encyclopedia of felonious females from history.
Of course, Yolen’s most famous title — The Devil’s Arithmetic — is a fictional tale about the Holocaust, as is her Briar Rose. (She once told a friend, “If I ever write another Holocaust novel, you have permission to slap me in the face.” She’s in the midst of another called House of Candy.) But making books classroom-ready isn’t the goal.
“If you write a book specifically as classroom material ... it’s going to be dry and pedantic. We want to tell the best story possible,” Heidi Stemple said.
Though all the kids eventually joined the family business in some way or another, it was a gradual process. Heidi Stemple waited until she was pregnant with her daughter, Madison, who’s now 20. As a kid, she was resistant, tired of being asked, ‘Are you going to be a writer when you grow up too?’ Instead, she became a parole officer, then a private investigator. 
Next in line to take up the trade was Adam, formerly a musician, whom Yolen has written 10 music books with. 
“We started writing some short stories together because we read the same kinds of fantasy and science fiction. He called me up and said, ‘I’m not making enough  money as a musician, but I’ve finally figured out what I want to do.’ I said good, go back to school, get a degree, go into finance. He said, ‘I’m going to be a novelist,’ and I thought, oh God,” Yolen said.
Jason Stemple, more of a “Stemple” than a “Yolen,” became the naturalist of the group and participates mostly through wildlife photography.
Mother and daughter live next door to one another now, and when they drive up to Warner, they’ll stop in New London to see Tomie dePaola, followed by a Maine event, where they’ll see illustrator Melissa Sweet. Afterward, they’ll return home, and Yolen will continue writing with her kids.
“I find it engaging and energizing and I wouldn’t give it up for anything,” she said. 

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