The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance


Katherine Paterson: An Interview

by Mary Brigid Barrett


Katherine Paterson, Summoned by Books

"In our family, books have created a shattering and gracious encounter of illumination and healing. It was my love of stories that led me to writing them. I didn't know when I started if I had any talent or ability. I only knew that I had been summoned by books and wanted not only to read them but to take part in their creation."

As a young girl Katherine Paterson dreamed of becoming a movie star. Thankfully, for generations of children, that dream never came true. For if it had, some of the most "illuminating and healing" novels for young people would not have been written.

Katherine Paterson's picture books and novels have received a remarkable array of literary awards including two National Book Awards and two Newbery Awards, our nation's highest accolades for young adult and children's novels. She is the recipient of what is commonly known as the "Nobel Prize for children's literature," the Hans Christian Anderson Award, given to an author whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children's literature.

A gifted speaker, Katherine is a tireless advocate for literacy, books, and libraries not only in our nation, but around the world. She believes that it is through reading books, and having books read to them, that children enhance their language skills, expand their vocabularies, and improve their writing abilities. Books, and story, enlarge a young person's universe allowing them to encounter worlds they may not have personally experienced. Books and story help a young person to realize that they are not alone in the world, that they have choices, and it is their choices which often determine who they are and who they will become.

Katherine's many books, including her collection of speeches and essays on reading and writing books for children, The Invisible Child, are available at your local library.

Katherine kindly took the time to answer the following questions :

Can parents do anything at home to prepare or encourage their children to read?

Yes, of course. They can read to their children. And, they can make sure their children see them reading books, magazines and newspapers and see them enjoy talking about what they have read. Books read together as a family can be just as much fun as movies or TV programs shared. Some of us think even more fun, but we may be biased. Don't stop reading aloud when children start reading for themselves. If children want to take turns with the reading, that's fine, but don't make it mandatory. Reading at home should be an enjoyable shared experience, not a chore or a test.

As a parent, how did you find the best books for your children?

I was eager to share with my children the books I had loved as a child, but since that had been years before, I trusted my local librarian to recommend books that she thought they might enjoy. Some of our best family reading came from recommendations from the children themselves. We have four, so the older ones would often tell the younger ones about good books. I also subscribed to The Horn Book Magazine as a help to myself as a writer, but I would often find reviews of books in it that would send me to the library to find the books. Friends, too, were a good source for recommendations.

Most, if not all, communities have free public libraries. Why then, do we need school libraries?

When my children were young, our community was quite safe and they could walk to the library. Not many parents would let their children walk to the library alone these days, and with so many parents working full-time, there may not be an adult available to take the children to the public library. Children are at school five days a week. And, in many modern schools, the library or media center, as it is often called, is in the center of the building, inviting children to make reading an important part of their lives and learning. If the books are not inviting, however, or there is no trained, knowledgeable librarian, it is hard for a child to find just the right book when he or she needs it.

Do you have any current books you would like to recommend for children and teens?

It's hard to choose just a few when there are so many good books available. The writers I've enjoyed in the past year, however, are Jack Gantos whose Joey Pigza books, about a wonderful, quirky boy who has to be on medication for his hyper-activity, are funny and poignant. I think any child would love them. And, Jack Gantos's account of his time in prison as a young adult should be read by every teenager. It's called  Hole In My Life. Another amazing autobiography is Walter Dean Myers's Bad Boy. For the nine to twelve year old crowd, I think Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn Dixie and Polly Horvath's The Trolls and Everything On A Waffle are outstanding. It's hard to know where to start and end a list like this. Go see your local children's librarian!

Do you have a website where kids can learn more about you and your books?

My web site is www.terabithia.com. We're in the process of updating it, so you may find it a bit out of date, but try us again in a few weeks. My son-in-law is in charge of the update, but he is also the stay-at-home parent with Liam, age ten months, who has just learned how to get out of sight and up the stairs the minute a parent's back is turned, so it will take us a while to finish the website updating!