ARUN RATH, HOST:
Jane Yolen is best known for her novel "The Devil's Arithmetic." It's the story of a fairly typical modern American girl who's transported back in time to 1940s Poland, where, as a Jew, she is sent to a concentration camp. In a totally different vein, Jane Yolen has written many great children's books, like the classic "How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?" Yolen's latest book is also a picture book for kids, and it's also about the Holocaust. "Stone Angel" follows a young French girl who flees with her family into the woods when the Nazis come to round up Jews. Jane Yolen told me when she started out, she had no intention of writing a kids book with Nazis.
JANE YOLEN: I began it because I saw this wonderful photograph online somewhere of this angel figure on a French apartment house. And I started just to write a story about the little girl and her brother Aron running down the street going to get something at the patisserie. I was not thinking about the Holocaust. And suddenly the Nazis came into it.
I don't know how that happened. But I have been writing for long enough to know that when someone marches into your book, you need to stop and listen and ask why have they done this? What are they trying to tell me? What is this story really about? So instead of being this little idyll of a couple of French children on a French street, it became something else entirely.
RATH: And this book is - you know, this is not the story of like Anne Frank. This is the story of survivors.
RATH: And in telling the story of this young Jewish girl - this young Jewish French girl - the horror is off-screen, for lack of a better term.
YOLEN: Right, right. And that was very much a choice. Yes, in "The Devil's Arithmetic," it's very much on screen. In another novel I wrote, "Briar Rose," it's very much on screen. The new book that I'm working on, "House of Candy," it's going to be very much on screen. But they're all books for older children, adults, college-age kids. That's OK. In my feeling, it's not OK to put it - blood dripping off the pages of a picture book. So that was a conscious decision.
RATH: We're in a period of time right now where sadly many of the survivors - they're a dwindling number - the people who actually can tell us about this history. And I'm wondering in the context of teaching about the Holocaust, how you - where you see this book fitting?
YOLEN: I consider "Stone Angel" a kind of starting place for parents to talk to their kids, as much as they want to talk to them. I don't think this book is for under third-graders. I don't think kindergarten, first, second - even though it's in a picture book format, because I don't think they're ready to have that conversation with their parents.
But by the time they're in third grade, they understand that there are people who die, there are animals who die, there are grandparents or great-grandparents who die. That may be a way to get into the book with the child. So this book becomes a kind of first setting for it. If a parent wants to talk about slavery or wants to talk about countries where bombs go off, they need to have a way - a setting - to have that conversation. And there are wonderful books out there for those kinds of conversations. And I'm hoping that this book can be that kind of setting as well.
RATH: That's Jane Yolen. Her newest book for children is called "Stone Angel." It's out right now. Jane, thanks so much.
YOLEN: Thanks for having me.
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