is an American
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
author of children's novels
Children's literature is for readers and listeners up to about age twelve; it is often defined in four different ways: books written by children, books written for children, books chosen by children, or books chosen for children. It is often illustrated. The term is used in senses which sometimes...
. She wrote Bridge to Terabithia
and has received several of the major international awards for children's literature.
She was born Katherine Womeldorf in Qingjiang
The Qingjiang is a right tributary of the Yangtze Riveroriginating at Tenglong Cave near Lichuan City, Hubei, People's Republic of China. It is 423 kilometers long...
The Republic of China , commonly known as Taiwan , is a unitary sovereign state located in East Asia. Originally based in mainland China, the Republic of China currently governs the island of Taiwan , which forms over 99% of its current territory, as well as Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and other minor...
, to Christian missionaries George and Mary Womeldorf. Her father was a principal at Sutton 690, a school for girls, and traveled throughout China as part of his missionary duties. The Womeldorf family lived in a Chinese neighborhood and immersed themselves in Chinese culture. When Katherine was five years old, the family was forced to leave China during the Japanese invasion
The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan. From 1937 to 1941, China fought Japan with some economic help from Germany , the Soviet Union and the United States...
of 1937. The family moved to Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...
for a short while before returning to China to live in Shanghai
Shanghai is the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper in the world. It is one of the four province-level municipalities in the People's Republic of China, with a total population of over 23 million as of 2010...
. In 1940, the family was forced to flee again, this time to North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...
The Womeldorf family moved 13 times between 1937 and 1950 because of George Womeldorf's work and also because of the war in China. Katherine was always the newcomer and never fit in very well, perhaps in part due to her British accent and secondhand clothing. She was lonely during this time and turned to writing to deal with her loneliness. While in school, she wrote many plays in which her peers acted.
Paterson's first language was Chinese, and she initially experienced difficulty reading and writing English. She overcame these challenges and, in 1954, graduated summa cum laude
Latin honors are Latin phrases used to indicate the level of academic distinction with which an academic degree was earned. This system is primarily used in the United States, Canada, and in many countries of continental Europe, though some institutions also use the English translation of these...
with a degree in English from King College
King College is a private, comprehensive college located in Bristol, Tennessee. Founded in 1867, King is independently governed with covenant affiliations to the Presbyterian Church and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church ....
in Bristol, Tennessee
Bristol is a city in Sullivan County, Tennessee, United States. The population was 26,702 at the 2010 census. It is the twin city of Bristol, Virginia, which lies directly across the state line between Tennessee and Virginia. The boundaries of both cities run parallel to each other along State...
. She then spent a year teaching at a rural elementary school in Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...
before going to graduate school. She received a Master's degree from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (Richmond, VA), where she studied Bible and Christian education. Paterson had hoped to be a missionary in China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...
, but its borders were closed to western citizens. A Japanese friend pushed her to go to Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...
instead, where she worked as a missionary and Christian education assistant. While in Japan, Paterson studied both Japanese and Chinese culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...
, which influenced much of her subsequent writing
Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols . It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and non-symbolic preservation of language via non-textual media, such as magnetic tape audio.Writing most likely...
Paterson began her professional career in the Presbyterian Church by teaching Sunday school curriculum for fifth and sixth grade parochial students. In 1966, she wrote the novel Who Am I?
. While continuing to write, she was unable to get any of her novels published. After being persuaded, Paterson took an adult education course in creative writing
Creative writing is considered to be any writing, fiction, poetry, or non-fiction, that goes outside the bounds of normal professional, journalistic, academic, and technical forms of literature. Works which fall into this category include novels, epics, short stories, and poems...
during which her first novel was published. Her first children's novel, The Sign of the Chrysanthemum
The Sign of the Chrysanthemum is a 1973 work of children's literature that marked the publishing debut of U.S. novelist Katherine Paterson. The novel is set in 12th century Japan and tells the story of Muna, a 14-year-old who searches for his long-absent father following his mother’s...
, was published in 1976. A Japanese fairy tale, it is based on Paterson's studies in Japan. Bridge to Terabithia
, her most widely recognized book, was published in 1977. Terabithia
was highly controversial due to some of the difficult themes. Bridge to Terabithia is among the most popular books she has written.
Some of her other books also feature difficult themes such as the death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....
of a loved one.
Her awards include the National Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...
(The Master Puppeteer
The Master Puppeteer is a 1975 work of children's literature written by U.S. novelist Katherine Paterson. The book is set in Osaka, Japan during a period of famine in the 18th century. A young boy named Jiro takes a job at a theater run by the puppeteer Yoshida, who proves to be a demanding employer...
, 1976; The Great Gilly Hopkins
-Plot summary:Gilly Hopkins is going to yet another foster home in Thompson Park, Maryland, with her social worker, Miss Ellis. At 11 years of age, she has spent the better part of her life being bounced from one set of foster parents to the next...
, 1979); the Edgar Allan Poe Special Award
Mystery Writers of America is an organization for mystery writers, based in New York.The organization was founded in 1945 by Clayton Rawson, Anthony Boucher, Lawrence Treat, and Brett Halliday....
, 1977); the Newbery Medal
The John Newbery Medal is a literary award given by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association . The award is given to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. The award has been given since 1922. ...
(Bridge to Terabithia
, 1977; Jacob Have I Loved
Jacob Have I Loved is a novel by Katherine Paterson that won the 1981 Newbery Medal. The title refers to the sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau in the Jewish and Christian Bible, and comes directly from Romans 9:13: As it is written, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated."The novel...
, 1981); the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
The Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction is an American award established in 1982 to encourage authors to focus on historical fiction. The award was created by Scott O’Dell, author of Island of the Blue Dolphins and 25 other children's books, in hopes of increasing young readers' interest in...
(Jip, His Story
, 1996); the Hans Christian Andersen Medal (1998); and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award
The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is an international children's literature award, established by the Swedish government in 2002 in honour of the Swedish children's books writer Astrid Lindgren...
Katherine Paterson is currently vice-president of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance
National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance is an American non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of literacy, literature, and libraries for young people...
, a non-profit organization that advocates for literacy, literature, and libraries. The Patersons continue to live in Barre, Vermont, and Dr. Paterson has retired as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. The Patersons' children are adults, and they have seven grandchildren.
On April 28, 2005, Paterson dedicated a tree in memory of Lisa Hill (her son David's childhood friend who became the inspiration for 'Bridge to Teribithia') to Takoma Park Elementary School. Paterson still does school visits but chooses to stick to schools that are close to her Vermont home. She is currently promoting her work and just put out a new book entitled Bread and Roses Too
. She was inspired to write this book after seeing a photograph of 35 children taken on the steps of the Old Socialist Labor Hall in Barre, Vermont captioned, “Children of Lawrence Massachusetts, Bread and Roses Strike
The Lawrence Textile Strike was a strike of immigrant workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912 led by the Industrial Workers of the World. Prompted by one mill owner's decision to lower wages when a new law shortening the workweek went into effect in January, the strike spread rapidly through the...
come to Barre,” Paterson's home town.
Bridge to Terabithia
has been adapted into film twice, the 1985 PBS version
Bridge to Terabithia was the name of a telefilm shot in Edmonton, Alberta for PBS in 1985, starring Annette O'Toole, Julian Coutts, and Julie Beaulieu. The film is based on the children's novel of the same name by Katherine Paterson....
and the 2007 Disney/Walden Media co-production
Bridge to Terabithia is a 2007 fantasy drama film directed by Gábor Csupó and adapted for film by David L. Paterson and Jeff Stockwell. The film is based on the Katherine Paterson novel of the same name, and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures in the US. The film stars Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia...
. One of the producers and screenwriters for the 2007 version is Paterson's son David L. Paterson
David Lord Paterson is an American screenwriter, actor and producer.When Paterson was a boy, his best friend, an eight-year-old girl named Lisa Hill, was struck by lightning and killed. His mother, author Katherine Paterson, used this real-life experience as the basis for her children's novel...
, whose name appears on the dedication page of the novel.
Another of her novels, The Great Gilly Hopkins,
has been optioned by Arcady Bay Entertainment, and an upcoming 2011 fantasy-novel release The Flint Heart
has been optioned by Bedrock Films. She has written a play version of the story by Beatrix Potter
Helen Beatrix Potter was an English author, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist best known for her imaginative children’s books featuring animals such as those in The Tale of Peter Rabbit which celebrated the British landscape and country life.Born into a privileged Unitarian...
, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck is a children's book written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter. It was first published by Frederick Warne & Co. in July 1908. Potter composed the book at Hill Top, a working farm in the Lake District she bought in 1905...
. It was performed at a conference of the Beatrix Potter Society in Fresno, CA in April 2009.
In January 2010, Paterson replaced Jon Scieszka
Jon Scieszka was born September 8, 1954 in Flint, Michigan is an American author of children's literature, best known for his collaborations with illustrator Lane Smith. He is also a nationally recognized reading advocate, and in early 2008 was named the National Ambassador for Young People's...
as the Library of Congress's National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a two-year position created to raise national awareness of the importance of lifelong literacy and education.
In Paterson's novels, her youthful protagonists face crises by which they learn to triumph through self-sacrifice. Paterson, unlike many other authors of young adult novels, tackles themes often considered to be adult, such as death and jealousy. Although her characters face dire situations, Paterson writes with compassion and empathy. Amidst her writing of misery and strife, Paterson interlaces her writing with wry wit and understated humor. After facing tumultuous events, her characters prevail in triumph and redeem themselves and their ambitions. Paterson's protagonists are usually orphaned or estranged children with only a few friends who must face difficult situations largely on their own. Paterson's plots may reflect her own childhood in which she felt estranged and lonely.
Awards for body of work
- NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature 2007 *Astrid Lindgren Award for Lifetime Achievement 2006
- Literary Light, Boston Public Library 2000
- Living Legend Library of Congress 2000
- Hans Christian Andersen Medal for Writing 1998
- Lion of the New York Public Library 1998
- Who's Who in American Women 1995 to present
- King College, Outstanding Alumnus 1993-1994
- Education Press Friend of Education Award 1993
- Anne V. Zarrow Award for Young Readers' Literature, Tulsa Public Library 1993
- New England Book Award 1992
- US Nominee Hans Christian Andersen Award 1989
- Regina Medal, Catholic Library Association 1988
- Children's Literature Award, Keene State College 1987
- Kerlan Award, University of Minnesota 1983
- University of Southern Mississippi Medallion 1983
- Scott O'Dell Award for Children's Literature 1982
- US Nominee Hans Christian Andersen Medal 1979
- Who's Who in America 1978 to present
- The Union Medal, Union Theological Seminary New York