of the Center for Children's Books:
|Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or
artist, sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an
old favorite whose reliable contributions deserve notice. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.|
Native San Franciscan Robert San Souci has had a somewhat checkered career but it has always involved doing something somewhere that had to do with books and writing, whether as a bookstore manager, an English teacher, a freelance editor, or a copywriter. While he has written several adult books and compiled several impressive collections (Cut from the Same Cloth: American Women of Myth, Legend and Tall Tale, BCCB 6/93, and Larger Than Life: The Adventures of American Legendary Heroes, BCCB 1/91; More Short & Shivery: Thirty Terrifying Tales, BCCB 10/94) this focus piece concentrates on his picture book retellings of traditional folktales.
A list of Robert San Souci's picture books is a lengthy one, and includes collaborations with an impressive sampling of some of children's literature's most well-known and admired illustrators, such as Daniel San Souci, Brian Pinkney, Jerry Pinkney, Gennady Spirin, George Shannon, Wil Clay, and Raúl Colón. San Souci's retellings and reimaginings of traditional tales, while individually unique, have elements in common: they are dramatic stories filled with magic and heroism, and something important is always at stake, whether it is the loss of an other-worldly wife, the sacrificing of one's life for the sake of another, or the salvation promised by true love. San Souci's language undergo gently shifts to suit the context of each tale; it is gently colloquial in his early title The Boy and the Ghost, elegantly formal as in his retelling of D'Aulnoy's The White Cat, or rhythmically oral as in the whoopingly tellable The Hobyahs.
San Souci's attributions and source notes were always a presence in his retellings. In recent years, folktales for youth began to serve as bridges to cultural lore instead of just storybooks, and the need for more informative source information became more apparent. San Souci responded with detailed notes that are admirable for their specificity.
San Souci's stylistic grace has become more refined over time, as evidenced by his latest retelling of the Armenian folktale A Weave of Words (BCCB 4/98), in which a headstrong prince is brought to wisdom by the love of a weaver's wise daughter. The gold-toned mixed-media illustrations of Raúl Colón combine with San Souci's heady language in this delicately wrought tale of romance and adventure.
Tracing an author's growth through twenty years' worth of picture books is a daunting task for a reviewer; in San Souci's case it is enough to make that same reviewer giddy with admiration. As a writer he has only gotten better; as a storyteller he positively shines. The following is a chronological list of San Souci's folktale retellings. I bet you'll be surprised at how many you have on your library shelves.
--JaniceDel Negro, Editor
This page was last updated on April 1, 1998.