Cover of Pay the Piper by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

Pay the Piper

This short novel has a long and complicated history. My agent was phoned by an editor at Scholastic wanting to know if I had any interest in a new series they were starting called HORRORS! It was to be novels based on old fairy tales brought up to date, with a frisson of terror but not real gruesome stuff, for young YA’s. They wanted me to write the lead book. Seemed right up my alley, but my son Adam had expressed interest in becoming a novelist so I enlisted his help. Scholastic was delighted. We based our book on the Pied Piper of Hamelin, only made him a rock-and-reel musician and set the story in Northampton, Mass., the town contiguous to the small town in which I live (and in which Adam grew up.) Seems there is a portal to Faerie up on Skinner Mountain in the Holyoke Range, something that will surprise the residents of the Pioneer Valley but makes sense within the context of the novel.

We wrote three drafts of the book for the editor (after having done massive revisions on our own.) Adam says of the book: “I refer to the experience as my Master Class, and the writing of this novel, more than anything else, set me on the path to becoming a writer.”

Okay–you have checked the top of this page and see that Scholastic did not, in fact, publish the book. I said this was complicated. Right before the book was to come out (with Neal Schusterman’s novel in the second spot) our editor was canned along with over 100 other Scholastic workers. The new line was canceled. We got the book returned and promptly resold it to the redoubtable YA editor Jonathan Schmidt at Tor. He made us revise it twice more before pronouncing it wonderful.

Even before the book was published it was nominated for the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults list as well as “Teens’ Top Ten Book of the Year” award given out by YALSA (the YA division of the American Library Association)–though alas, it didn’t make the final list. However, it won the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel of the year. Tor made wonderful bookmarks as well as a Reader’s Guide, and we had a great long line for signing at BEA. It was also Book of the week: Washington Post/KidsPost, Sunday, October 2, 2005.


  • Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel of the Year
  • Book of the week: Washington Post/KidsPost, Sunday, October 2, 2005
  • Nominated for the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults list as well as “Teens’ Top Ten Book of the Year” award given out by YALSA (the YA division of the American Library Association

What reviewers have said:

  • “Who captivates kids more than a mesmerizing rock star? The Svengali of this tale is the piper in the retro band Brass Rat. Attending their concert, 14-year-old Callie is enthralled by him as well as by another band member but soon senses something sinister about Peter Gringras and the group. An aura of menace wafts through the novel as Gringras’s true identity and back-story are played out in an italicized parallel text. When the worst happens–the neighborhood children, including her brother, are spirited away by the flute on Halloween–Callie enters the land of Faerie to confront the piper. He’s really a cursed fairy prince in mortal clothing who’s obliged to render children up to his father as punishment for murdering his brother centuries ago. Callie devises a stratagem to send Gringras back “home” for good and to rescue the children in this rich homage to the Hamlin story. Brass Rat’s “lyrics” are included.” — Kirkus
  • “Yolen and her son, a professional musician, have produced a rollicking good riff on the Pied Piper. . .The authors keep the action moving while allowing readers to sympathize not only with Callie but also with the fairy piper, wicked as his plans–and his past–are. A strong, resourceful girl, a Faery land where ethical questions are posed, and some fun poked at baby boomer parents make this an entertaining as well as meaty read. Following the story is a collection of “Brass Rat Songs,” eerily hummable despite being presented without musical notation –Booklist
  • “A young teen will love it, younger kids too, perhaps even kids so young you must read it to them, and then you can all look forward to the next in the series”—Analog online
  • “Cassie’s resolve and nimble thinking will have young readers cheering her on.”–Endicott Studio
  • “Good suspense. . .”-Chicago Tribune
  • “This swift and entertaining read, co-authored by a noted fantasy writer and her musician/writer son, skillfully blends ancient magic with music and contemporary teen life.” –Kliatt
  • “[A] fast-paced Faerie tale. . .” School Library Journal
  • “I just finished ‘Pay The Piper,’ and may I say that it is an astounding piece of work! I am amazed at the degree of refreshed wonder and magic that this old piece of folklore has been given by this collaboration…What an incredible read! Spellbinding. Gripping. Stunning. There are just not enough superlatives to give this book justice! It was an exhilarating escape, with my only complaint being that it was all too brief. I am already pining for the next installment in the rock’n’roll fairy realm! Don’t miss this book, you’ll regret it.”–[Naomi de Bruyn] Linnear Reflections
  • “Now Jane Yolen, a mistress of fantasy, has teamed up with her rock-and-roll musician son to develop a series crossing classic tales with contemporary musicThis debut effort is a thriller. . . It’s hard to resist the image of Callie at the faerie court in her soccer shirt and Old Navy jeans, coming upon a horde of stolen children: “dozens of them, like little forlorn ghosts, white-faced, the sun shining right through them.”–Washington Post Book World
  • “Veteran storyteller Yolen works with her musician son on this new interpretation of the Pied Piper of Hamelin story that will intrigue those middle schoolers who enjoy retellings of familiar stories or are lured by tales of the Faerie realm.”–VOYA
  • “The mother-and-son team of Yolen and Stemple have crafted a snappy modern-day Pied Piper tale. The authors are terrific at giving traditional fantasy elements a modern twist that will appeal to teenage readers. The young characters’ actions and dialogue are believable, and the story marches along briskly. Pay the Piper doesn’t talk down to younger readers. There are some rather grim plot elements, but there’s no overt violence or sex. It’s a good, fast read for a day spent by the pool, and fortunately, there are more “rock and roll fantasies” planned from this talented team.”—Romantic Times Book Club
  • “The veteran writer has penned the start of a clever new series for middle-schoolers and older readers with her musician son, Adam Stemple. . . it’s a fantasy about a popular rock band, Brass Rat, that has more than a magnetic effect on listeners. It’s clever and sure to appeal to readers with a musical background. Songs and music notes are included at the end of the book.”—Detroit Free Press
  • “Fairy tales and rock music might not seem to go together. But this book, by longtime kids’ author Jane Yolen and her rock musician son, Adam Stemple, works like a charm.”—Washington Post
  • “This swift and entertaining read, co-authored by a noted fantasy writer and her musician/writer son, skillfully blends ancient magic with music and contemporary teen life.” — KLIATT
  • “Pay the Piper is a well written story but attains the level of brilliance because of how it handles the history of the real Pied Piper. It’s easy to dismiss what happened in Hamelin as a folk tale, but that would be foolish and worse yet, disgraceful. Something bad happened to those children over 800 years ago, just as something bad happens to children everyday in modern America. Believe it was just a story if that is what allows you to sleep at night, or be brave enough to jump out a window and run into the dark after a legend if you want to know the truth. That is what Callie does and what she discovers makes for a great modern fairy tale.”—BookSlut
  • “This short novel aimed at the young adult market is well-described and plotted giving an insight into the mind of an amoral faerie that chooses not to take proper punishment for his sin. The descriptions of faerie-land are well contrasted with the modern urban setting that Callie must track across to solve the mystery. Her common-sense, no nonsense and profoundly moral approach is also contrasted with the stance taken by Gringras as he offers up his price without care about the human misery involved. Included at the end are some song lyrics from the fictional rock band, so it would be great if the publishers could rock and roll this onto a CD with music added to the lyrics pretty please.”—