Katherine Paterson, author of 'Bridge to Terabithia' comes to New Canaan
Published 7:25 pm, Wednesday, April 20, 2011
When her son was 8 years old, Katherine Paterson, author of the successful "Bridge to Terabithia," saw him deal with a tragedy that was largely inexplicable. A very good friend was struck and killed by lightening. She needed a way to explain this tragedy to her son and help him cope with his loss. What came about from that need was a classic novel, which has won a Newbury award and also been turned into a Hollywood film. "Bridge to Terabithia" is most notable for the themes of death and explaining it to children through a fairy tale/fantasy story.
"I just wanted to explain this tragedy to my son somehow," she said. "Putting this into a novel format allows you to find out things you did not know were there with a beginning, middle and an end. When you get to the end, it sheds light on what came from before."
But when discussing the book's wild success, she is still in disbelief.
"When you write a story to make sense out of something that did not really make sense and to get that kind of great reaction," she said. "It has been amazing to me."
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Paterson, who has been writing since the early '60s, currently holds the position of National Ambassador for Young People's Literature given by the Library of Congress. The role is intended to stress the importance of reading for young people across the country.
"When they explained it to me, I said to myself `Well I've already been doing that for 30 years,'" she laughed. "But it is a great chance for me to stress how important books are for young people."
She stressed that reading is too integral to the fabric of education and knowledge to just toss by the wayside.
"I'm just trying to say that if you truly want to understand yourself and what makes human beings the way they are then you have to read fiction," she said. "If you want to understand history then you are going to read nonfiction."
Paterson will discuss the importance of reading and her role as ambassador April 27 at the New Canaan Library.
Paterson believes that especially today, with the advent of technology, that books are more important than ever.
"I want to show how important actual books are," she said. "It has been down played with Twitter and Facebook becoming so prevalent."
Paterson recalled an interesting interaction she had with a student from when she spoke at Dominican University in Chicago that dealt with Twitter.
"A lot of these students had brought their laptops and cell phones into the session," she said. "But they were paying attention so I was not too concerned."
During the course of the event, Paterson explained specifically the advantage books have when compared with other media.
"Through reading we learn about ourselves, about other people and about the world," she said. "This kind of in depth reading is important if you're going to have a democracy."
At that same session, Paterson said she made an off the cuff comment about how no one has made something of themselves through Twitter comments.
"Then a girl came up to me very shyly and said she was posting my quotes and comments on Twitter up until my last statement," Paterson said with a laugh. "That was a fun moment. But look, I am not looking to get rid of Facebook and Twitter. I am simply trying to promote reading the way it was intended. Reading requires work and thought."
In addition to discussing her role as ambassador next week, Paterson will also talk about some of her books and inspiration. Her most famous work, "Bridge to Terabithia," won a Newbury Award and was recently turned into live action Hollywood film.
Another book near and dear to her heart is "The Great Gilly Hopkins" that explores the nature of foster homes and parenting.
"When you do not have ideas coming out of your ears, you tend to pull on whatever you see around you," Paterson explained. "My husband and I were once asked to be foster parents, albeit for a very short time. It made me realized what it takes to be a foster parent and what these kids might be going through. If you think about it, somebody thought it was alright to let them go."
Paterson plans to discuss all of this and more when she comes to New Canaan but her focus will still be on raising awareness for reading and libraries in general.
"I'm a really big supporter of libraries. If people don't have access to books then they are not going to read. It is really important for us, especially when the economy is poor, that reading is stressed. Libraries are more important than ever," she passionately said. "I think that the education of our children is a matter of national security. We are not going to be able to compete with the world if we have an uneducated populous."
Even with all of her success, Paterson is not done writing. She has two books currently in the works. "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" is a reimagining of an old hymn with scissor-cut artwork. Another book she is working on is a free abridgement of a book from 1910 called "The Flint Heart," which is a fairy tale about the use of power.
New Canaanites can catch Katherine Paterson on stage April 27 at the New Canaan Library at 6:30 p.m.