In Praise of Versatility


I was doing a toddler story time on Tuesday, reading dinosaur books in honor of International Dinosaur Month (did you know such a thing existed? I sure didn’t), and had to include one of my dinosaur favorites, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague.  After the story time I was chatting with a parent who was mentioning how much she loved Jane Yolen’s picture books and I mentioned to her that the great thing about Yolen is that you can read her books at every phase of literary development: she’s written picture books, early chapter books, middle grade novels, YA novels, and adult novels, not to mention a generous helping of poetry and short stories.  Of course, this wouldn’t mean much if she weren’t talented at all of these levels, but, incredibly, she is.  Owl Moon is her most decorated picture book, with a Caldecott for illustrator John Schoenherr (and it made #30 on Betsy Bird’s picture book poll).  Meanwhile, she has gobs of ALA Notable Books for Children, Best Books for Young Adults, Nebula awards, and more, for the older books.

This seems like a very rare talent to be so versatile.  The only other writer who came immediately to mind for me was one of my personal author heroes: Emily Jenkins/E. Lockhart.  She hasn’t garnered the sheer number of awards and prizes as Yolen (but then she hasn’t written nearly as much yet), but from what I’ve read of hers, it’s only a matter of time.  I’m currently reading Jenkins’s Toy series of chapter books to Elsa and she thinks they are just about the greatest thing that’s ever happened (so do I).  Under her Lockhart pseudonym, of course, she’s written Printz Honor book The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and the always hilarious Ruby Oliver series, as well as several standalone YA titles (I’ve read all of her YA books, and I keep meaning to write up a Completist piece on these novels for The Hub, because I think they are all amazing).  And I haven’t gotten to any of them, but she has written quite a few picture books and a couple of adult novels as well.

So the question of the day is–who else is so versatile (and talented)?  I can think of quite a few authors who have written in two or three of these age ranges, but none that get so across the board as Yolen and Jenkins.  I feel like there have to be others, but I can’t think of who?  Mom, readers – who am I missing?

– Mark



Filed under Books, Children, Teens

12 responses to “In Praise of Versatility

  1. Eric

    William Steig! From young picture books like Pizza Pizza to upper elementary picture books like Amos and Boris to middle grade novels like Abel’s Island and Dominic (the greatest middle grade novel ever written!) to his New Yorker cartoons for adults, no one had more versatility. Over his career he garnered 2 Newbery Honors (including the rare newbery honor for a picture book, a horn book award a Caldecott Medal, a caldecott honor and multiple national book award finalist nods. What have the Wilder committees been waiting for??? Posthumously honor this legend please.

  2. Sarah Flowers

    The first one that occurred to me was Russell Hoban: picture books, including the Frances books and Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas; middle grade, like The Mouse and his Child; adult, like Riddley Walker and Turtle Diary; and apparently his final book, released this year, is a YA: Soonchild.

    Also, Laurie Halse Anderson has picture books and middle grade books, as well as YA.

  3. Another topic dear to my heart (as usual). I’m always curious about something you’ve not touched on here: whether authors stick to one age group (or even genre) because they think they have to “brand” themselves.

    • Mark Flowers

      Good question, Beth (as usual) – whenever I’ve asked an author about audience, the answer I always get is “I don’t think about audience, I just write what comes” or something like this. But this is such a frequent response that it sounds suspiciously like Bull Durham’s take on baseball quotes: “We gotta play it one day at a time” “I’m just happy to be here. Hope I can help the ballclub.” “I just want to give it my best shot, and the good Lord willing, things will work out.” I suppose the more important question would be what publishers think – do they automatically push a YA author’s next book as YA even if it reads more like an adult or MG book? Good questions all.

  4. Madeleine L’Engle! You name it, she’s written it, practically. Adult fiction, realistic children’s fiction, realistic YA, sci-fi children’s and YA, mystery, poetry, memoir, theology, early reader, picture book, series, stand-alone…

    • Mark Flowers

      L’Engle was the first person mentioned to me, by a friend after I posted this and somehow I forgot to put her name up here. So thank you – she definitely is high up on this list. I especially enjoy that she’s written so much nonfiction

  5. Sarah Flowers

    Oh, duh! Of course. Also, Cynthia Rylant, although no adult stuff except for an autobiography.

  6. Kathryn

    Just came to this blog and really enjoy it! Another versatile author is Neil Gaiman who has picture books like Crazy Hair and The Wolves in the Walls, middle grade novels such as Coraline and the Newbury Award winning The Graveyard Book, graphic novels (as well as the ultimate graphic novel series in Sandman), and books for adults like American Gods. When asked about his versatility, he generally answers that he loves to try and learn new things.

  7. Uri Cohen

    Interesting post! One more versatile author is Daniel Pinkwater. He has written books on at least five different levels, ranging from picture books to adult fiction and even some nonfiction.

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