We are so thrilled to reveal the cover of the newest book by Jane Yolen, the legendary author of The Devil’s Arithmetic, a moving story about a girl who gets transported back to 1940’s Poland and experiences the stories her Jewish family told her about the Holocaust firsthand. It’s been nearly 30 years since The Devil’s Arithmetic came out, and Mapping the Bones is Jane’s first Holocaust novel since then. Influenced by Dr. Mengele’s sadistic experimentations, this story follows twins as they travel from the Lodz ghetto, to the partisans in the forest, to a horrific concentration camp where they lose everything but each other. Read a Q&A with Jane Yolen below, then see the incredible cover of Mapping the Bones!
Q. You’re very well known for writing about World War II in The Devil’s Arithmetic and Briar Rose, which were published nearly thirty years ago. What compelled you to return to that time period for Mapping the Bones?
A. I had been thinking about writing another fairy tale novel after the first two I’d done with Philomel–one had been historical and the other just plain magical. The fairy tales ranged from Cinderella to Rumplestiltzskin to the Princess and the Pea to Beauty and the Beast. But Hansel and Gretel just seemed to have more usable “stuff” in it. With an empowered girl, which I always love. However, each time I got to thinking about the story, what stopped me was the idea of modern kids shoving a witch in an oven. It just gave me the creeps. I was ready to move on to a different tale when I realized it was not the idea of the witch that was stopping me–it was the oven.
And at that my mind went directly to the concentration camp ovens. Why it took me so long to get there and acknowledge the connection I don’t know. But I did know that was the story I had to tell. When my editor Jill Santopolo and I were meeting for breakfast and we started to talk about the next fairy novel, I was reluctant to bring up the Hansel and Gretel idea up because the very last thing I wanted to do was to go back into that evil part of history and write a third Holocaust book. But she was like a dog on a scent, and kept poking at me until at last I brought up Hansel/Gretel/oven. I extemporized the main elements of what might have been plot though I have always considered myself lousy at plot. And she said, “I just got goose bumps.” At her request, I sent a two page summary of what I thought was the novel. (Warning: They never quite turn out the way you think.) But though the three sections of the novel remained the same from that first meeting, it was getting the witch character into the oven that ended up giving me the most trouble after all.
PS: I will never ever write another Holocaust novel. You have my word on that.
Q. Mapping the Bones is about twins, Chaim and Gittel, who are so close that they don’t even need words to communicate. Were there any real-world twins or siblings that you based this relationship on?
A. We have twins all over the family. I had twin aunts. My brothers-in-law are identical twins. I have twin granddaughters. But the only ones I have seen as they grew up, of course,
are Amelia and Caroline my youngest grandchildren (of six.) I assume some things about them have slipped into the book, but I am too thick to figure it out. I think they will have to tell me. They are both great readers, so I expect to hear from them when they get their copies.
However, Chaim is partially based on a college friend, the best friend of my junior year college boyfriend, who had a terrible, disabling stutter except when he read poetry aloud or recited it. And as I am a poet myself–from as early an age as Chaim was–I had to make Chaim a young poet. Which meant I got to channel his poems. Because all that darkness in the book needed to have something to bring out the light of the yahrzeit candle of memory. As for Gittel–she is how strong I wish I could be but in my inner heart know I am not.
Q. And lastly, since this is a jacket reveal, could you tell us a little bit about the jacket? What was your reaction when you first saw it?
A. My first reaction was a shiver, because it encapsulated the darkness and the poetry all at the same time. Then I realized it also suggested the Hansel and Gretel theme being both their
home and the witch’s house. On a second look, I tried to make it a welcoming house but it is definitely not. Which is what happens to the twins as they wander from ghetto to abandoned houses with the partisans, to the labor camp in Mapping the Bones, each house worse than the last.
And now, the cover!!
Beautiful, isn’t it?
About the book:
The year is 1942, and Chaim and Gittel, Polish twins, are forced from their beautiful home and made to live in the Lodz Ghetto. Their family’s cramped quarters are awful, but when even those dire circumstances become too dangerous, their parents decide to make for the nearby Lagiewniki Forest, where partisan fighters are trying to shepherd Jews to freedom in Russia. The partisans take Chaim and Gittel, with promises that their parents will catch up — but soon, everything goes wrong. Their small band of fighters is caught and killed. Chaim, Gittel, and their two friends are left alive, only to be sent off to Sobanek concentration camp.
Chaim is quiet, a poet, and the twins often communicate through wordless exchanges of shared looks and their own invented sign language. But when they reach Sobanek, with its squalid conditions, rampant disease, and a building with a belching chimney that everyone is scared to so much as look at, the bond between Chaim and Gittel, once a source of strength, becomes a burden. For there is a doctor there looking to experiment on twins, and what he has in store for them is a horror they dare not imagine.
This gut-wrenching story about the choices we make, the values we hold — and the ties that bind us all together–adds a story never told before in young adult literature to the body of work written about teens during World War II.
Look out for Mapping the Bones on shelves March 6th, 2018!