Katherine Paterson

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Katherine Paterson
Born Katherine Womeldorf[1]
(1932-10-31) 31 October 1932 (age 89)
Huai'an, Jiangsu, China
Occupation Writer
Nationality American
Period 1973–present
Genre Children's and young-adult novels
Notable works
Notable awards National Book Award
1977, 1979
Newbery Medal
1977, 1981
Hans Christian Andersen Award
Astrid Lindgren Award
Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal

Katherine Womeldorf Paterson (born October 31, 1932)[1] is a Chinese-born American writer best known for children's novels. For four different books published 1975-1980, she won two Newbery Medals and two National Book Awards. She is one of three people to win the two major international awards; for "lasting contribution to children's literature" she won the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing in 1998[2][3] and for her career contribution to "children's and young adult literature in the broadest sense" she won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award from the Swedish Arts Council in 2006, the biggest monetary prize in children's literature.[4] Also for her body of work she was awarded the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature in 2007[5] and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the American Library Association in 2013.[6][7] She was the second U.S. National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, serving 2010 and 2011.[8]

Early life

Katherine Womeldorf was born in Huai'an, Jiangsu, China, to Christian Missionaries Rev. G. (George) Raymond 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 of 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.

The Womeldorf family moved 13 times between 1937 and 1950 because of Rev. Womeldorf's work and also because of the war in China.

Higher education

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 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. Paterson had hoped to be a missionary in China, but its borders were closed to western citizens. A Japanese friend pushed her to go to Japan instead, where she worked as a missionary and Christian education assistant. While in Japan, Paterson studied both Japanese and Chinese culture, which influenced much of her subsequent writing.

Writing years

Paterson began her professional career in the Presbyterian Church by teaching Sunday school curriculum for fifth and sixth grade parochial students.[clarification needed]

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 1976. It is a work of historical fiction, set in the Japanese medieval period; it is based on Paterson's studies in Japan. Bridge to Terabithia, her most widely read work, was published in 1977. Terabithia was highly controversial due to some of the difficult themes.[citation needed] 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 of a loved one.

Recent years

Katherine Paterson is currently vice-president of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance, a non-profit organization that advocates for literacy, literature, and libraries.[9] Paterson lives in Barre, Vermont. Her husband John Barstow Paterson, a retired Presbyterian pastor died several years ago.[citation needed] She has four children and 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 captioned, "Children of Lawrence Massachusetts, Bread and Roses Strike come to Barre".

She has written a play version of the story by Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck. It was performed at a conference of the Beatrix Potter Society in Fresno, CA in April 2009.

In January 2010, Paterson replaced Jon Scieszka as the Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, a two-year position created to raise national awareness of the importance of lifelong literacy and education.[8][10][11]

In January 2013, Paterson received the biennial Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the American Library Association, which recognizes a living author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made "a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children". Citing The Bridge to Terabithia in particular, the committee noted that "Paterson's unflinching yet redemptive treatment of tragedy and loss helped pave the way for ever more realistic writing for young people."[6][7]

Writing style

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.[11] 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.[11]



The Hans Christian Andersen and Astrid Lindgren Awards are the two major international awards recognizing career contributions to children's literature.[2][3][4] The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award is the highest honor from U.S. professional librarians for contributions to American children's literature.[6][7]

Paterson has also won many annual awards for new books, including the National Book Award (The Master Puppeteer, 1977; The Great Gilly Hopkins, 1979);[12][13] the Edgar Allan Poe Special Award (Master Puppeteer, 1977); the Newbery Medal (Bridge to Terabithia, 1977; Jacob Have I Loved, 1981);[14] the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction (Jip, His Story, 1996).[8] Twenty years after its publication, Of Nightingales That Weep won the 1994 Phoenix Award as the best 1974 children's book that did not win a major contemporary award.[15]

Awards for body of work
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, 2013[6][7]
  • NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature 2007
  • Astrid Lindgren Award for Lifetime Achievement 2006[4]
  • Literary Light, Boston Public Library 2000
  • Living Legend, Library of Congress 2000
  • Hans Christian Andersen Medal for Writing 1998[3]
  • 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 1989–90[3]
  • Regina Medal, Catholic Library Association 1988
  • Children's Literature Award, Keene State College 1987
  • Kerlan Award, University of Minnesota 1983
  • The University of Southern Mississippi Medallion 1983
  • Scott O'Dell Award for Children's Literature 1982
  • US Nominee Hans Christian Andersen Award 1979–80[3]
  • Who's Who in America 1978 to present
  • The Union Medal, Union Theological Seminary (New York)[when?]


Bridge to Terabithia has been adapted into film twice, the 1985 PBS version and the 2007 Disney/Walden Media co-production version. One of the producers and screenwriters for the latter version was Paterson's son David L. Paterson, 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.[citation needed]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Paterson, Katherine". Library of Congress Authorities (lccn.loc.gov). Retrieved 2015-10-31.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Hans Christian Andersen Awards". International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Retrieved 2012-08-20.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "Katherine Paterson" (pp. 98–99, by Eva Glistrup). "Candidates for the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 1956–2002" (pp. 110–18).
    The Hans Christian Andersen Awards, 1956–2002. IBBY. Gyldendal. 2002. Hosted by Austrian Literature Online. Retrieved 2013-07-23.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "2006: Katherine Paterson: Brilliant Psychologist Gets Right Under the Skin". The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Retrieved 2012-08-14.
  5. [1]
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, Past winners". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). American Library Association (ALA).
      "About the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award". ALSC. ALA. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Welcome to the (Laura Ingalls) Wilder Medal Home Page". ALSC. ALA. 2013. Archived from the original on 2013-06-05. Retrieved 2013-06-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Katherine Paterson named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature" at the Wayback Machine (archived October 25, 2011). Library of Congress. January 10, 2010. Archived 2011-10-25. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
    "Emeritus – National Ambassador for Young People's Literature". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2013-07-23.
  9. "The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance". The NCBLA. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
  10. "Katherine Paterson Named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature". School Library Journal. Retrieved 2013-01-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Motoko Rich, "New Envoy's Old Advice for Children: Read More", The New York Times, January 5, 2010.
  12. "National Book Awards – 1977". National Book Foundation (NBF). Retrieved 2012-02-27.
    (With acceptance speech by Paterson.)
  13. "National Book Awards – 1979". NBF. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  14. "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922–Present". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). American Library Association (ALA).
      "The John Newbery Medal". ALSC. ALA. Retrieved 2013-07-23.
  15. "Phoenix Award Brochure 2012". Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
    See also the current homepage, "Phoenix Award".

External links