Obituaries
    Next Score View the next score

    Susan P. Bloom, who taught and elevated children’s literature, dies at 80

    Ms. Bloom, who headed Simmons’ Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, engaged students at Hillel Academy in Swampscott.
    Ulrike Welsch/Globe Staff/File 1981
    Ms. Bloom, who headed Simmons’ Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, engaged students at Hillel Academy in Swampscott.

    Susan P. Bloom spent decades elevating the presence of children’s literature at Simmons University and in academia nationally, so it follows that she also believed in reading aloud long past when many set aside that memorable communion of children and adults.

    “Parents make a large mistake if they stop reading to kids just as soon as they’re competent to read to themselves,” Mrs. Bloom, a former director of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons, told the Globe in 1991. “It’s one thing to be able to read independently, but quite another to understand stories at dramatically different levels.”

    Believing that each moment could be made unforgettable, she celebrated the dramatic possibilities in everyday events, whether she was teaching a class, staging a birthday party, marking a book’s publication, or making a Torah-shaped grilled cheese sandwich before her grandson’s bar mitzvah.

    Advertisement

    Mrs. Bloom, who was 80 when she died June 7 in her Framingham home of ovarian cancer, turned the commonplace timeless.

    Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
    A look at the news and events shaping the day ahead, delivered every weekday.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    “When she read to you it’s like she transported you,” said her daughter, Johanna Morse of Framingham. “She’d take a weather report and you’d be in tears at the end of it.”

    At Simmons, where Mrs. Bloom directed the graduate program in children’s literature and the children’s literature center from 1986 to 2005, her legacy included launching a master of fine arts in writing for children, which augmented the school’s groundbreaking master of arts degree in children’s literature.

    And as a mentor to aspiring writers, she helped fill the field with authors who turned children’s literature into something more than just books for young readers.

    “Susan was really an icon of children’s literature. You can’t say her name in this field without someone telling a Susan Bloom story,” said Jack Gantos, who was awarded the Newbery Medal in 2012 for his book “Dead End in Norvelt.”

    Advertisement

    Mrs. Bloom “knew how to make us shine in ways we didn’t know that we could,” said Jo Knowles, who had been one of her students. “I feel she always got the best out of me.”

    Gantos had been recruited by Mrs. Bloom to appear at the annual Summer Children’s Literature Institute at Simmons.

    “Literature was important to her, but the people behind the literature were even more important to her,” said Gantos, who is known for his “Rotten Ralph” and “Joey Pigza” books. “She was special, and there was no one like her.”

    Cathryn Mercier, a longtime friend and colleague who now directs the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, said that in addition to creating imaginative themes for the summer institute year after year, Mrs. Bloom promoted a lecture series and an award for emerging writers and designed classes that examined the entire output of specific established writers.

    “If there’s one indelible mark, it’s the commitment to the artist and the creative process,” said Mercier, who added: “I would say every student who had Susan as a teacher left as a better writer.”

    Advertisement

    Mrs. Bloom “was such an incredible teacher and mentor,” said Knowles, the author of books including “Where the Heart Is” and “Still a Work In Progress.”

    “Susan was the kind of teacher who made sure she heard from everybody in class, whether or not you raised your hand,” she said, and that encouragement didn’t end when the class was over. Mrs. Bloom “would write these long, beautiful kind of letters in response to my papers, and made me feel like what I said mattered,” said Knowles, who also showed Mrs. Bloom her early efforts at writing a book.

    “After I handed in one of the first drafts, she came and found me and quoted a line from the first chapter,” Knowles said. “Her eyes were sparkling and she said, ‘You are a writer, Jo Knowles.’ I’ll never forget that. When someone you look up to says that kind of encouraging remark, it means the world to you.”

    One of Mrs. Bloom’s “great gifts was to make all of us feel that we could be better and do more,” Gantos said, “and we did, as a result.”

    The younger of two sisters, Susan Parker was born in Boston on Nov. 29, 1938, and grew up in Brookline, a daughter of Benjamin Parker, a salesman, and Lillian Pinksohn. She was 12 when her father died, leaving her mother to be a single parent.

    “My grandmother was formidable in every way,” Johanna said. “She was a seamstress and she put those two girls through college.”

    Susan, meanwhile, was exceptional at school. “She was always a student, and always a learner,” Johanna said. “Her report cards from childhood put us all to shame.”

    After graduating from what was then Simmons College with a bachelor’s degree in English, Mrs. Bloom taught English at Newton North High School. Through the family of one of her students, she met David Bloom, whom she married in 1965. They lived in Wellesley for many years.

    “For my father, it was love at first sight,” Johanna said. “He was a very confirmed bachelor until he met my mother. I think they were engaged within six months.”

    Mrs. Bloom received a master’s in children’s literature at Simmons and taught there before assuming the directorships of the children’s literature center and children’s literature graduate program.

    She also formerly was part of The Horn Book magazine review staff, had chaired the Globe’s Horn Book Awards, and had served on the Newbery selection committee.

    Each friend she made and each organization she served was treated to her boundless energy and creativity. She helped shape the theme of most every event, including birthday parties, such as one for her mother that featured fashion displays for every decade Lillian Parker had been a seamstress. If friends and family were lucky, she baked their birthday and wedding cakes.

    “She was an artist in the kitchen,” Johanna said. “Everything she made had meaning.”

    After Mrs. Bloom was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, “she made sure every moment was accounted for,” Johanna said. Because Mrs. Bloom’s grandsons, Jacob and Benjamin, were old enough to travel, she brought them on trips to distant countries. And she read to them and their little sister, Lilly, throughout their childhoods.

    In a eulogy at Mrs. Bloom’s service, 11-year-old Benjamin recalled that his favorite thing to do with his grandmother “was to read with her, every day, for homework or just for fun.” What he would miss most, he added, is that “I would never be able to read with her again.”

    Mrs. Bloom loved purple, and the service was awash in variations of the color, Johanna said.

    “She had a great appetite for life and for people,” said Mrs. Bloom’s longtime friend Susan Epstein, who once told Johanna that one of Mrs. Bloom’s legacies “was showing us that charm could move mountains.”

    Mrs. Bloom, whose husband died in 2017, and whose sister, Lois Glick, died in 2011, leaves her daughter and three grandchildren.

    “Her zest for life was palpable, and she gave the gift of the richness of her life to her friends,” Epstein said.

    “The thing that distinguished her was her energy, even in the face of her illness. She was going to squeak out what she could,” Epstein added. “She taught me about living, and she taught me about dying, in a very generous way.”

    Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@globe.com.