Read our exclusive interview with Katherine Paterson, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, award-winning author, and mother of four, for advice on what your kids should be reading.
Katherine Paterson, distinguished author of Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved (both Newbery Award winners) and countless other children's picture and chapter books, was recently named the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress. A prolific writer, she has written 30 books and has been awarded numerous book honors and awards throughout her career...and is still writing!
Ambassadors are selected by the Librarian of Congress for extraordinary contributions to the world of books for children and are appointed for a two-year term. They speak to the importance of fiction and nonfiction in the lives of young people, something Paterson has already been doing for more than 30 years.
Raising four children while writing, she often created stories that had emotional connections to her life. The sudden death of her son's childhood friend inspired her to write Bridge to Terabithia to help her make sense of it all. Just as she feels compelled to write about circumstances and ideas that move her, Paterson believes that kids should read what naturally speaks to them. "All of my work is an attempt to write something that will touch a reader the way The Secret Garden affected me at age 8," she says. Luckily for us, Paterson has given her readers a vast collection of stories and characters to embrace.
We caught up with Paterson just as she returned from the ceremony in Washington, D.C. earlier this winter.
What does it mean to you to have been named the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature?
It is, of course, an honor and a thrill as well a responsibility to represent all my wonderful friends and colleagues working in literature for young people. Although I have been making talks about young people's books for more than 30 years, the ambassadorship provides a wider platform. As ambassador, I will have an opportunity to remind people outside of our field of the importance and delight that can be found in books for children.
What do you have to do in your role? What are your plans?
There will be certain occasions such as The Celebration of Teaching and Learning Professional Development Conference presented by New York's Channel 13, the Children's Choice Book Awards Gala in New York, and the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. where the ambassador is expected to make an appearance, and which will be a pleasure to take part in. Other appearances are now being scheduled as well, but I feel the traveling will be manageable-that is, I will still have time to be a writer as well as an ambassador.
I've read that you have trouble saying when you knew you wanted to be a writer because you never really planned on a career in writing. What made you decide to write your very first book?
A graduate school professor who, on the basis of my writing in her class, felt that I should be a writer, got me the job to write a book for the Presbyterian Church School curriculum. After that, I began to write seriously, but it was seven years between that first book and the publication of my first novel.
As a mom with four children, how did you find the time to write?
I wrote in five-minute snatches for several years. When my youngest started preschool three days a week, I had to help out one of those days, but on the other two, I had almost two and a half hours of uninterrupted writing time. What a luxury that seemed!
I've always felt that kids who say they don't like to read just haven't found a book they love yet. It's very individual. What advice do you have for parents when their kids say they don't like to read?
You're absolutely correct. It's the right book for the right child, and to help get them together you need to know both the child and a wide range of books. That's why reading parents and trained children's librarians are absolutely vital. There are many helpful organizations for parents who feel inadequate for this job. Let me recommend one: The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance of which I am an enthusiastic board member has a wonderful website (www.thencbla.org) with a lot of help for parents and teachers as well.
What do you think of the Twilight and Harry Potter series that got so many kids reading again for pleasure?
It's wonderful when books like these can show young people what books can do that no other media can. I say: Read away! If you love one book, it may tempt you to try others, maybe even one by Katherine Paterson.
Don't Leave Childhood Without Reading These Five!
Paterson admits it's a pretty difficult task to pick just a few books when listing her favorite reads for children. But when we asked her to name her five must-reads for kids, she selected these:
1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
2. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
3. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
5. Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss