Katherine Paterson doesn’t think of her characters as role models. She sees them as “people in circumstances of difficulty.” Paterson’s middle grade novels tackle challenging subjects such as sibling rivalry, troubled children, and even death. Her sensitive, yet realistic expressions of childhood emotions have touched young and old readers throughout the world. After receiving two Newbery Medals and one Newbery Honor, Paterson was awarded the 1998 Hans Christian Andersen Medal for the body of her work. She is only the fifth American writer to receive this international award for making “a lasting contribution to children’s literature.”
As the daughter of two missionaries, Katherine Paterson spent the first five years of her life in China. When the Japanese invaded during World War II, her family returned to the United States. By the age of 18, Paterson had moved over 18 times with her family. After studying English literature in Tennessee and Bible and Christian education in Virginia, Paterson moved to Japan as a missionary herself. She fell in love with Japan and stayed for four years.
After returning to the United States in 1961, Katherine met and married John Paterson, a Presbyterian pastor in Buffalo, New York. By 1966, the Patersons had four children, two of whom they adopted. When she wasn’t busy raising a family, she spent her time writing, though it was a long nine years before her first novel was published. Paterson credits her husband for having faith in her abilities “during all those years that no one wanted to publish anything I had written.”
By the early 1980s, Katherine Paterson had solidified her prestigious place in children’s literature. In 1978, she won the Newbery Medal for Bridge to Terabithia. The following year, The Great Gilly Hopkins won a Newbery Honor, and just two years after that, Jacob Have I Loved won the 1981 Newbery Medal. In addition to middle grade novels, Paterson has written picture books and stories for younger children, including the popular Marvin series. Her most recent book, Bread and Roses, Too, is a novel inspired by the famous 1912 mill strike in Massachusetts. In addition to writing, Paterson says that one of her most important activities is her service on the board of the advocacy group The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA) .
Katherine Paterson was named the 2010–2011 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Thanks to Reading Rockets’ outreach manager Rachael Walker for these photos from the announcement at the Library of Congress on January 5, 2010.