Notes from a Librarian: Katherine Paterson

Katherine Paterson has recently been named the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature by the Library of Congress. Ms Patterson visited Provo a few years ago and I was lucky to hear her speak. She is one of those authors whose personal life is as fantastic and interesting as any of her books. She was born in China and her parents were Christian missionaries there. Amazingly, her first language was Chinese, and she struggled with English when her parents were forced out of China because of WWII and moved to Virginia. She clearly overcame this challenge and graduated from college, majoring in English, before entering the ministry. As a missionary for the Presbyterian Church she lived in Japan and Africa. In her talk at BYU, she said that in Africa some local witch doctors were giving her missionary church a difficult time. So she paid a different witch doctor to make a voodoo doll of one who was bothering them. She finally settled in Virginia, and became a pastor there. She primarily writes historical fiction with strong girl characters who overcome amazing trials. Her best known book, The Bridge to Terabithia, won the Newbery award in 1977, and was made into a major motion picture in 2007. Here are the Katherine Paterson books I have read and enjoyed.

Bridge to Terabithia, 1977
Jess Aarons had to be the fastest runner at Lark Creek Elementary School, but when he was beaten in a race by Leslie Burke it was the beginning of a new season in Jess's life. Jess and Leslie become friends, and Leslie shows Jess a new world of the imagination that gives him the strength to meet the challenges ahead.

The Great Gilly Hopkins, 1978
Gilly does not want to be a foster child. She wants to live with her beautiful, but parentally incompetent mother. So she develops skills and techniques that drive her foster parents crazy so she doesn’t have to stay with any one foster family for long. She meets her match when she is sent to the home of Maime Trotter, a fat, old, nearly illiterate widow, who knows a thing or two about difficult foster children.

Jacob Have I Loved, 1980
Caroline and Louisa are twins, but Caroline is blond, beautiful and talented, while Louisa is dark, plain and taciturn. Louisa struggles to find her own place in the world and begins working as a waterman beside her father. Her experience on the sea gives her the courage to start to make a life for herself far away from her perfect sister.

Lyddie, 1991
Lyddie’s father has died, her mother is losing her grip on reality and the family is on the verge of losing their farm. So Lyddie, at age 12, decides to go to work to earn money for the mortgage. She becomes a factory girl and soon masters her job running a loud, fast, and dangerous weaving machine. As time passes and her childhood and health are devoured by the relentless factory life she begins to wonder if the extra money will be enough to save her crumbling family.

Donna Cardon is a children's librarian at Provo City Library and a well known children's book critic. We'd like to thank her for allowing us to republish her articles for our readers. You can visit her children's book blog HERE