Monday, April 4, 2016

#AuthorApril: C is for Campbell Bartoletti...Susan, That Is

Dear Kim,

#AuthorApril is off to a solid start. Think we can keep it up for all of our A to Z Challenge?

C is for Susan Campbell Bartoletti


Letter C brings us one of our favorite Pennsylvania authors, Ms. Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Kim, I know you will agree that Susan is one hell of a writer. Her work has received dozens of awards and honors, including a Newbery Honor, NCTE Orbis Pictus Awards for Nonfiction, the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction, the Jane Addams Children's Book Award, Sibert Medal, and many more. Beyond the awards, Susan pushes to tell the truth about our history while writing for children. She says, "By nature, human beings search for ways to make sense and meaning out of their lives and their world. One way that we make meaning is through the telling of our stories. Stories connect us, teach us, and warn us never to forget." Ms. Campbell Bartoletti's work layers rich storytelling, impeccable research, and humanity into each page of text, even in the darkest of historical topics.


2006 Newbery Honor, Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow
Some may be lucky enough to know that Susan is as gifted a teacher of writing as she is a writer. In 2014 we asked Susan to join us at the SCBWI Pocono Retreat for writers and illustrators. Susan gave many memorable talks at that weekend's events. One that stays close to mind was her talk of muses.

Susan with fellow presenters at 2014 SCBWI Pocono Conference.


Susan had the task that weekend of making her fellow writers mine for ideas. One exercise had us make pages of lists. List of objects found in our car. List of bad habits. List of things you don't like about yourself. Lists of places, people, events that you remember. We obeyed and left the session with hundreds and hundreds of words: people, places, habits, events.

At a session later that day she had us follow up on our lists. "Write about one event that you remember. Reach down inside yourself. The only rule is you must repeat 'I remember' within your writing." We got to work. A teacher in her bones, Susan walked the room and helped move us along in our writing.


In the end I wrote:

I remember being too loud on her steps- Her landlord would be out any minute to shake his fist and hush us.

I remember knocking- Meg checked the doorknob- unlocked- go right in.

I remember the bag of apples- her stomach hurt that morning and we brought back a gift. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," I called.

I remember the apples tumbling over themselves when I dropped the bag at her feet- all trying, like me, to get away.

I remember seeing my first dead body. My mother.

I remember the wail of sirens- the high scream coming nearer- nearer- nearer until they all blared hot on my wet face.

I remember my mother dancing to Kenny Rogers, pulling a brush through my hair, whispering "I love you". Every moment came rushing back.

I remember that night too often for the 22 years that have swept in since. When I hear a song. When those first few cold nights creep up in October. Whenever I hear sirens- even in the far, far distance. I remember.



I wish I had poems from other conferees to share because she pulled out an I Remember from each participant. She's just that kind of teacher.

I get to spend a week with Susan this summer at the Foundation's Summer Camp. Kim, I cannot wait to learn more about writing from this master.

Happy #AuthorApril.
Much Love,
Alison