Many stories that we’ve grown to love over the years have no single author. Indeed, their origin is often a story within itself. Our collection of folktales thrives today because our authors are so passionate about sharing timeless tales from many different cultures with younger audiences.
These dedicated authors recognize that their stories have great power to bring people together. So it is with no small amount of gratitude, and a little bit of grace, that we take this opportunity to celebrate one author who unselfishly shared his gift of story with us. In this case, the beloved award-winning author, Robert D. San Souci.
As a female “90s child” of Asian-American descent, I grew up in awe of the story of Mulan. This was no typical princess story where the protagonist waits for her love to kiss her so that all their dreams can come true and they’ll live happily ever after. This was a story of strength, honor, and freedom. Folklore or not, Mulan resonated with me, and every girl like me, by showing us how strong and brave we truly are. I never knew who to thank for this powerful role model until I started working for August House and encountered the name of Robert San Souci.
When our CEO told me about San Souci’s life work and his involvement with August House, I was floored. I knew I wanted to honor this man in some way, and we decided to dedicate this issue of our newsletter to celebrate his many gifts. Since Robert, or Bob as he would affectionately ask to be called, published nearly a hundred books, this is a humbling, if not almost impossible task, but here it goes!
The first thing to marvel about Robert San Souci was his deep curiosity about the world. This trait influenced how he gathered his stories. In fact, he made many of his folklore discoveries simply by roaming around and talking with people he would encounter. He traveled widely, meeting new people and learning their histories as he pursued his passion for unique story lines. When he found a story that excited him, he would go to work writing it down in a way that he could share with the world. Obviously, San Souci was a prolific writer.
When looking at a bibliography of his work, it is interesting to note how many of his books have the words “chilling,” “thrills,” or “scared” in the title. San Souci had a particular knack for writing scary stories and nearly half of the books he authored were written to frighten his readers. When reflecting on his early writing process, he recalled, “Even before I learned to write, I would listen carefully to stories read to me. I would then retell these to my friends—but I left out things I didn't like and added things I thought would improve the story. Often, what I added were monsters, since these seemed to liven things up considerably” (Scholastic).
In our own LittleFolk collection, we are proud to offer three of R. San Souci’s picture books: As Luck Would Have It (2008), Sister Tricksters: Rollicking Tales of Clever Females (2006), and Zigzag (2005). Two of these books were illustrated by Daniel San Souci, Robert’s younger brother, a gifted watercolor artist. In fact, the brothers often worked together after they both realized their mutual love for children’s books. Later, Daniel would say of collaborating with his brother, “We loved to work together doing projects where we could share our talents” (SLJ). Fun fact: even though he is two years younger, they share the same birthday. (Oct. 10 – happy belated, Daniel!)
All three of our titles with R. San Souci have received critical acclaim. Sister Tricksters, a unique collection of delightfully clever heroines won the prestigious Storytelling World Honor Award, as well as the NAPPA Children's Resources Family Honors Award. San Souci’s wit is on display as he interpreted the memorable characters of Br’er Rabbit, Br'er Fox, Br’er Possum and others with a twist – all of the mischievous characters are females who wreak havoc over a sleepy southern landscape.
Two years later, Bank Street named, As Luck Would Have It, an adaptation of a timeless Brother’s
Grimm tale, to their list of the best Children's Books of the Year. It was also recognized with the prestigious California Collections Gold Award. San Souci tells the hilarious story of endearing twin bear cubs who learn to work together as they survive a series of harebrained mishaps to recapture their family’s stolen fortune.
Our staff is especially fond of the exceptional picture book, Zigzag, a heartwarming story of a strange-looking orphan doll who perseveres against rejection to find the child who will ultimately love him. The book was illustrated to make the images look like they were quilted from scraps just like Zigzag. We also developed a lesson plan for children in Pre-K through 2nd grade to reinforce the lessons of this brave doll’s journey.
Robert’s dedication to discovering remarkable folktales served him well. His passion for tales that were not only ancient but also from faraway places inspired him to pen stories on Irish adventures, Caribbean fairy tales, Japanese myths, and even takes on Sir Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. As he pointed out, "These tales often remind us how alike we are—yet, at the same time, they affirm how wonderful it is that people have so many different, imaginative, and insightful ways of making sense of the world and celebrating its wonders" (Eduplace.com).
The long list of San Souci’s work continues beyond the reach of this article. Yet, we are certain if he were still with us today, he would have continued his quest to discover and share many more extraordinary stories.
Robert D. San Souci passed away on December 19, 2014. October 10th of this year marked his 70th birthday. We are so grateful for the rich legacy of stories he shared with us and for his commitment to bringing so many classics to life. His work will live on for decades, as these stories are passed on to each new generation of readers.
Thank you, Bob—you are missed by all of us who loved you and your work.