- Writing period
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Katherine Paterson (born October 31, 1932) is an award-winning American author of books for children.
Paterson was born in Qing Jiang, China 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 in 1937. The family moved to Richmond, Virginia for a short while, before returning to China to live in Shanghai. In 1940, the family was forced to flee again, this time to North Carolina. Read Full Bio >>
George Womeldorf's missionary work, as well as the war in China, caused the Womeldorf family to move 15 times between 1937 and 1950.That's 13 times. She was always the newcomer and never fit in very well. Students were weirded-out by her British accent and her hand-me-down clothes. One of her classmates, Eugene, was also a social outcast and the two became friends. Still, Katherine 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. Her first language was Chinese, and she initially experienced difficulties with writing and reading English. She overcame these difficulties and, in 1954, graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English from King College in Bristol, Tennessee. She then spent a year teaching at a rural elementary school in Virginia 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. Katherine had hoped to be a missionary in China, but its borders were closed to western citizens. A Japanese friend pushed Katherine to go to Japan instead, where she worked as a missionary and Christian education assistant. While in Japan, Katherine studied both Japanese and Chinese culture, an influence on much of her subsequent writing.
After four years in Japan, Katherine traveled back to New York to pursue her second master’s degree in religious education. It was there that she met Presbyterian minister Reverend John Paterson whom she married on July 14, 1962. The Patersons moved to Takoma Park, Maryland, where they had four children: John Barstow Jr., David Lord, Elizabeth Po Lin, and Mary Katherine. Paterson's daughters Elizabeth Po Lin and Mary Katherine were both adopted.
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 during which her first novel was published. Her first children's novel, The Sign of the Chrysanthemum, was published in 1973. 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.
Some of her other books also feature difficult themes such as the death of a loved one.
Her awards include the National Book Award (Master Puppeteer, 1976; The Great Gilly Hopkins, 1979), the Newbery Medal (Bridge to Terabithia, 1977; Jacob Have I Loved, 1981), the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction (Jip, His Story, 1996), the Hans Christian Andersen Medal (1998), and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (2006). She also had 4 children. Katherine wrote Bridge to Terabithia because her son's best friend Lisa died in a lightning strike. This book was for him.
Katherine Paterson is currently vice-president of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance, a not-for-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 (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 Massachusettes, Bread and Roses Strike come to Barre,” Paterson's home town.
Bridge to Terabithia has been adapted into film twice, the 1985 PBS version and the 2007 Disney/Walden Media co-production. One of the producers and screenwriters for the 2007 version is Paterson's son David L. Paterson, whose name appears on the dedication page of the novel "The Bridge to Terabithia".
Another of her novels, The Great Gilly Hopkins, was optioned by Christine Vachon's Killer Films in April 2008, and is expected to be released as a major motion picture in early 2009.
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 topics 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. Her plots reflect Paterson's own childhood in which she felt estranged and lonely. Paterson herself had few friends and was often an outcast from her peers.
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