Publishers often sent Susan Stan, the editor of Five Owls magazine, boxes of children’s books to review. “One Halloween she asked kids to pick out a book instead of candy,” said friend Ingrid Sundstrom Lundegaard. “The next year, there was a line up to her front door.”
Stan never missed an opportunity to share her passion for children’s literature. She taught classes on the topic as an English professor at Central Michigan University, edited resource books such as “The World Through Children’s Books” and spoke at international and national children’s literature conferences.
Stan was “more interested in the theory of the book rather than how many spelling words it contained,” said friend Mary Abbe Hintz, who met Stan when they were students at St. Olaf College in Northfield. “Susie understood the lifelong lessons children’s literature imparted to kids,” she added.
Stan, 72, died March 21 at N.C. Little Hospice in Edina.
While growing up in Casper, Wyo., the avid reader met her first inspirational fictional heroine on a comic book “spinner” at the grocery store. Stan bonded with “Little Lulu” because “she was a strong female character and always fooled the boys,” said Hintz.
Stan graduated from St. Olaf in 1968, and the next year earned her master’s degree in English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. After a five-year stint in children’s book publishing in New York City, she returned to Minneapolis for a job in sales and marketing at Lerner Publishing Group. She attended book fairs where she loved meeting authors and illustrators, said Harry Lerner, chairman and founder of the company.
“I admired her diligence, energy and strong interest in so many topics,” he said.
In 1986, Stan launched Five Owls magazine focusing on children’s books for librarians, teachers and parents. After Stan received her Ph.D. in children’s literature at the University of Minnesota in 1997, she embarked on a second career as an English professor.
She was an enthusiastic teacher affirming that children’s literature “was a serious area of study, and not just fluffy and fun,” said fellow professor Anne Hiebert Alton. Stan especially focused on international children’s literature because of the cultural insights it gives kids and adults.
Stan was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to do research and served on selection committees for the Caldecott, Hans Christian Andersen and Batchelder awards.
She took on other challenges, too, becoming involved with the Vietnamese immigration program through her church, and was a foster mother to two teenagers, Duoc Tran and Tim Ha. “She taught me English and treated me like a son,” said Tran, of Minneapolis, now the father of four children whom Stan considered her grandchildren.
After retiring from teaching in 2014, she moved from Michigan to a downtown Minneapolis condo and traveled, golfed, cross-country skied and sang in her church choir. Her friends recalled her wry sense of humor and “all encompassing” smile. “She was a relatively tiny woman, but she had this huge laugh,” said Alton. Last summer, Stan returned from a biking trip in France and was diagnosed with cancer, but she still spoke at a children’s literature conference in Seattle in the fall.
“Nothing slowed down Susan Stan,” said Elizabeth Brockman, a fellow English professor. “She lived deeply and on her own terms, in the Henry David Thoreau sense of the phrase.”
Stan is survived by her two foster sons and four grandchildren. Services will be held at 11 a.m. April 14 at Central Lutheran Church, 333 S. 12th St., Minneapolis.