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Home Arts & Culture Plum Creek Literacy Festival Debuts New Breakfast and Books Event

Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple talk at the Breakfast and Books event on March 18. Photo courtesy of Plum Creek Literacy Festival Facebook page.


by April Bayer


Award-winning children’s author Jane Yolen and her daughter and fellow author Heidi Stemple visited Concordia’s campus on Saturday, March 18 to deliver the keynote address for the inaugural Breakfast and Books event hosted by Concordia’s Plum Creek Literacy Festival.

Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival Director Dylan Teut modeled Breakfast and Books after an event he has attended for several years at Anderson’s Bookshop near Chicago where five different authors give presentations and lead book discussions. The event was put into motion after the Plum Creek Literacy Festival’s planning committee received a high demand for a spring event in addition to the Plum Creek Adult Conference in the fall.

The morning began with a breakfast buffet and social hour, followed by Yolen and Stemple’s 90-minute keynote address.

“Jane Yolen is one of the most renowned and respected children’s books authors today. (She) has such an interesting collection of stories from her many years of experience,” said Teut. “I think her main goal is to inspire those who work in the field of children’s literature (and) provide a motivational message.”

Yolen is a native of New York City. She was inspired to write as a child by her father, who was a journalist, and her mother, who created short stories, crossword puzzles and acrostics. This tradition then spread to Yolen’s three children, whose own photography and writing have been published numerous times. Yolen and her children have also co-authored several books.

Yolen graduated from Smith College with a Bachelor of Arts in 1960. She also earned a Masters in Education from the University of Massachusetts in 1976. She has since worked as an editor and author and has published more than 350 fiction, nonfiction and poetry books for children across a variety of genres.

“My voice is a combination of humor and silliness and something more serious and poetic. I think I have many voices,” Yolen said.

Stemple was initially uninterested in writing and became a probation officer in Florida after graduating from college. She later wrote and published her first story when she was 28 years old and has since published 20 books for children as well as numerous short stories and poems.

Yolen and Stemple began their presentation by expressing the joy they find in working together as a family and where they get ideas for their stories. They explained that they can find inspiration just about anywhere, from a comment made about Stemple’s shoes at a party to the time that Yolen lost a fencing foil while on a date at Grand Central Station. Yolen’s most well-known book Owl Moon, which won the Caldecott Medal in 1988, was inspired by the relationship between Stemple and her father.

“Writers are looking at the world for that one little piece that can be expanded into a book…that one little grain that we can polish into a story,” Stemple said.

Yolen and Stemple also shared anecdotes about working in publishing and discussed their writing processes, the necessity of revising one’s work, the ability to face the reality of rejection from publishers and their belief in the importance of moving on from failure as a writer.

“These ladies continue to be an inspiration to authors with a message that applies to all people in all vocations: to never give up,” sophomore Leah Werling said in an email interview. “Even among their failures, Jane and Heidi knew the importance of continuing to move onward, always improving on their work and following their passion. I enjoyed spending the morning listening to their stories and having the chance to meet them.” 

The keynote address was followed by an opportunity to meet the authors and have them sign books.

Planning for the 2018 Breakfast and Books event has already begun. Children’s author and former Plum Creek presenter Carmen Agra Deedy is scheduled to be next year’s keynote speaker.

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