Module 14: Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Stories by Jane Yolen

Book Cover Image:



 Image Credit: Campbell County Public Library. (2015)

Book Summary:

This collection of twelve stories delves into fantasy in its many forms: fable, fairy tale, horror and literary variation.  Yolen uses both legend and literature as the basis for her stories, and creates fantastical variations on well-known tales.  One story revisits Wonderland, where Alice learns, in facing the omnipresent Jabberwock, that her courage lies in her ability to laugh at danger.  Another explores vampiric lore, detailing the horror of a young boy whose dead mother has returned to prey on his village. “The Bridge’s Complaint” tells the story of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” from the bridge’s perspective, turning the traditional story upside down.  Each of the twelve stories contains elements of familiar stories, although the reader sometimes does not realize the connection until the very end: in “Wilding,” a story of teenagers who turn into wild animals upon entering Central Park, the main character is rescued from a predator by a Max,  one of those in charge of the wild things.  After her incident, she leaves behind her wilding ways and decides to ask her mother if there is still something warm for dinner.

 APA Reference of Book:

Yolen, J. (1997).  Twelve impossible things before breakfast: Stories. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.


This book surprised me.  I don’t usually like short stories, and so did not anticipate enjoying this collection. However, the way Yolen uses traditional stories and well-loved literature as the basis for her stories made each story a small treasure.  Her use of the short story form is, as well, delightful:  each story moves slowly enough to develop a setting and background, as well as to build suspense; yet it also moves quickly enough to build to a climax and come to a final resolution.  Character development is minimal, but her use, in many cases, of already-familiar characters helps augment the in-story characterization.  I enjoyed each of the twelve stories, but my favorites were “The Bridge’s Complaint,” an alternate version of the traditional “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” and “Wilding,” an imaginative elaboration of “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak.

Professional Review:

” Although 9 of the 12 fantasy stories in this collection have been published before, it is truly nice, as Yolen herself says, to have them together “under one roof.” Yolen consistently writes fresh, off-the-wall stories that even children who don’t normally read fantasy will enjoy. Some of the tales have elements of horror: “Mama Gone” concerns a boy whose deceased mother is a vampire; “The Baby-Sitter” is about a girl who must follow a ritualistic pattern of movements to placate the mysterious “them” who lurk behind closed doors. Some are sweetly tragic, such as “Bolundeers,” in which a father saves his son from monsters. Others are twists on old stories: in “Lost Girls,” a Peter Pan takeoff, a new Wendy raises the consciousness of other lost girls and foments rebellion in Neverland. Yolen’s introduction and her final comments on the origins of each story add to the fun and provide wonderful insights into the writing process. “

Review Source:
Sherman, C. (1997, November 1). Twelve impossible things before breakfast: Stories by Jane Yolen. [A review of Twelve impossible things before breakfast: Stories by J. Yolen.]  Booklist, 94(5), 463. Retrieved from Gale Literature Resource Center.

Library Uses:

School Library Journal online recently published a blog post about the importance of reading aloud to teens.  Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Stories is a perfect choice for a read-aloud, perhaps in a scenario in which the school librarian “drops in” to a classroom and reads for five or ten minutes.  Each of these stories is short enough to read aloud in that time, yet gives the listeners the satisfaction of a complete story experience.  Additionally, most teens will connect the short stories with their more-familiar traditional versions.