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5 Questions With... Katherine Paterson (BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA)

by Katherine Paterson
 | Apr 17, 2013
Katherine Paterson is a former National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Her international fame rests not only on her widely acclaimed novels but also on her efforts to promote literacy in the United States and abroad. She is a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, and she has received many other accolades for her works, including the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, given by her home state of Vermont. Katherine Paterson was also named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2000. She lives in Barre, Vermont, with her husband, John Paterson.

Your most recent book, THE FLINT HEART (Candlewick, 2012), is a retelling of a 1910 fairy tale by Eden Phillpots that you co-wrote with your husband, John. You’ve intimated that one of the reasons you undertook abridging and updating THE FLINT HEART is because of its politically relevant message. As someone who has served as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, what role do you think books—children’s books in particular—can play in political awareness?

Actually, it was only after we'd finished the abridgment that I began to see how relevant it was to today's political landscape.

If you write with a message to deliver, you'll get propaganda, not story. You leave the message making to the reader. You don't make the message when you're the storyteller.

You’ll be joining Walter Dean Myers and Jon Sciezska on the National Ambassadors for Young People's Literature author panel at IRA 2013. What can you share about the unique vantage point shared by you and these two authors who have represented young people’s literature internationally?

I am not sure I have a unique vantage point, and I can’t speak for Jon or Walter, but it was a real joy to be the National Ambassador for two years and speak out for the cause of books for the young. I feel strongly that the ability to read well and deeply and widely is so important to those learning how to think critically and make good decisions for their lives. Texting and tweeting just won’t do the job of insuring that our democratic way of life will endure.

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, your 1977 Newbery Award-winning classic, remains one of the most challenged/banned books of the past three decades. How have these censorship efforts affected you on a personal level?

I am always saddened to hear that some teacher or librarian is in trouble because of something I have written. They are the true heroes in my mind. But I have come to believe that if a book has power, it will always have the power to offend someone. I don’t want to write books that have no power to move or inspire the reader.

You’ve said, “There are those days when I have finished a book and can't for the life of me believe I'll ever have the wit or will to write another.” How has this self-doubt changed through the course of your long and storied literary career?

No, if anything, the older I get the more self-doubting I become. Pitiful, isn’t it?

Growing up, your missionary family was very mobile. Over the course of your travels and many school-changes, what teacher made the greatest impact on your life?

The librarian at Calvin H. Wiley School provided a haven for me and introduced me to wonderful books when I was a very lonely fourth grader. I will always be grateful.

Come see Katherine Paterson at IRA 2013! She will be participating in "National Ambassadors for Young People's Literature" on Sunday, Apr 21, 2013.The panel includes Jon Scieszka and Walter Dean Myers.

© 2013 International Reading Association. Author photo: Samantha Loomis Paterson. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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