Katherine Paterson – Part 7 in the series on third culture kid children’s authors
Today, I’m continuing my series on third culture kid children’s authors. If you have not read my previous posts in this series, here are the TCK authors I’ve blogged about so far – you can scroll back through my older posts or do a search to read these:
- Homesick, My Own Story – Jean Fritz – part 1
- Miss Happiness and Miss Flower – Rumer Godden – part 2
- Jean Little – part 3
- Sally Lloyd Jones – part 4
- Anne Sibley O’Brien – part 5
- Alice Dalgliesh – part 6
For those of you who are new to this blog, a Third culture kid (TCK) is a term used to refer to children raised in a culture other than their parents‘ (or the culture of the country given on the child’s passport, where they are legally considered native) for a significant part of their early development years.
About Katherine Paterson
My series on third culture kids children authors would be sorely lacking if I did not include Katherine Paterson, not only because she is an amazing writer who has won several Newbery Awards and myriads of other awards, but because she speaks directly in many of her novels to the very central issues facing third culture kids: loss, isolation, belonging, transitions, and culture. Children, including and especially third culture kids, need books that help them deal with big emotions, including loss.
Katherine Paterson is the author of more than 30 children’s books, including 16 novels. She has twice won the Newbery Medal, for Bridge to Terabithia in 1978 and Jacob Have Ioved in 1981. The Master Puppeteer and The Great Gilly Hopkins both won the National Book Award.
For the body of her work she received:
- The Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1998
- The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2006
- Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2000
- Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 2013
In addition to her writing, she has served in many different and prominent roles, as an advocate for literacy and reading.
Katherine Womeldorf was born on October 31, 1932 (we share a birthday) in Huai’an, Jiangsu, China, to Christian Missionaries. Her father was a principal at a school for girls. The Womeldorf family lived among the Chinese and Mandarin was Katherine first language. 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. They returned to China to live in Shanghai, but in 1940, when Katherine was 8, the family was forced to flee again, this time settling in North Carolina. Her transient life and many moves between US and China has had a deep affect on her and her writing which often focuses on outsiders who don’t fit in as main characters in many of her books.
Of her early childhood in Katherine says:
“People from seasoned journalists to curious fifth graders nearly always ask me about my Chinese childhood. It seems to exotic to have been born there and to have spent my early years there. But that part of my childhood doesn’t seem exotic to me. It the the only life I ever knew… I was America that was the alien land, exotic from the distance of half a world, but close up, a strange, unfriendly country.”
(excerpt from her autobiography – Stories of My Life (2014)
After her childhood straggling life in China and the US, she earned a degree in English from King College in Tennessee. She then taught in a rural area of Virginia for a year, before going on to get her Master’s degree from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia, where she studied Bible and Christian education.
After graduating, she went on to work in Christian education in Japan for several years (1957-1961) before returning to the US to attend Union Seminary. There she meets John Paterson and they are married in 1962. During John’s studies at Princeton, Katherine taught elementary school. They have 4 children, John Jr, Lin, David and Mary. Her husband, John was a Presbyterian minister (he passed away in 2013). Katherine now has seven grandchildren. She currently lives in Vermont.
Her Children Books
Katherine Patterson has written over 30 bookschildren’s books – I have read many of them, including her newly published book The Brigadista Year which takes place in Cuba. Several of her novel are set in other countries, including Japan, China, Kosovo and Cuba.
List of Katherine Paterson’s children’s books
- The Sign of the Chrysanthemum, 1973 (Set in Japan)
- Of Nightingales That Weep, 1974 (set in Japan)
- The Master Puppeteer, 1975 (Set in Japan)(National Book Award)
- Bridge to Terabithia, 1977 (Newbery Medal)
- The Great Gilly Hopkins, 1978 (Newbery honor book, National Book Award)Jacob Have I Love, 1980 (Newbery Medal)
- Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom, 1983 (Set in China)
- Come Sing, Jimmy Jo, 1985
- Park’s Quest, 1988
- Lyddie, 1991
- Flop Girl, 1994 (good story for children who are trying to adjust in a new school – great for TCKs)
- Jip, His Story, 1996 (winner of the Scott O’Dell Award)
- Parzival: The Quest of the Grail Knight, 1998
- Preacher’s Boy, 1999
- The Same Stuff as Stars, 2002
- Bread and Roses, Too, 206
- The Day of the Pelican, 2009 (Kosovo)
- My Brigadista Year, 2017 (set in Cuba)
- The Angel and the Donkey, illustrated by Alexander Koshkin (1996)
- The King’s Equal, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin (1996)
- Celia and the Sweet, Sweet Water, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin (1998)
- The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon (1990) – Japanese folktale
- The Wide-Awake Princess, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin (2000)
- Blueberries for the Queen, (with John Paterson) illustrated by Susan Jeffers (2004)
- Brother Sun Sister Moon: Saint Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures, illustrated by Pamela Dalton (2011)
- The Flint Heart (with John Paterson), illustrated by John Rocco (2011)
- Smallest Cow in the World (1991)
- Best Christmas Present Ever (1997)
- The Field of the Dogs (2001)
- Marvin One Too Many (2001)
- Who Am I? Explores what it means to be a child of God (1966)
- Consider the Lillies: Plants of the Bible (with John Paterson), paintings by Anne Orphelia Dowden (1986)
- Images of God (with John Patterson, illustrated by Alexander Koshkin (1998)
- The Light of the World: The Life of Jesus For Children, illustrated by Francois Roca (2008)
- Giving Thanks: poems, prayers and praise songs of Thanksgiving (2013), illustrated by Pamela Dalton
Christmas collections – these are Christmas stories that Katherine wrote to read-aloud at their church Christmas eve service:
- Angels & Other Strangers: Family Christmas Stories (1979)
- A Midnight Clear: Twelve Family stories for the Christmas Season (1995)
- Star of Night: Stories for Christmas (1980)
Katherine Paterson – stories of my life (2014)
Facts about Katherine Patterson
Parents: George and Mary Womeldorf
Her father was wounded in Belgium during World War I and his right leg was amputated below the knee. His disability did not stop him from going to China and living under very difficult situations.
Katherine is the middle of five children
The Womeldorf family moved 13 times between 1937 and 1950
Katherine and her late husband John have 4 children –
- John Jr. (born in 1964)
- Elizabeth Po Lin (1964) (she was born in Hong Kong and came to them at age two)
- David (born in 1966)
- Mary Katherine Nah-he-sa-pe-chi-a (1968) (She is an Apache-Kiowan child – she was adopted from the White Mountain Apache reservation)
It was when Katherine had 4 children all under the age of 5, that she began to write seriously – wow!
Her first five books were dedicated to her husband and 4 children.
She co-wrote several books with her late-husband, John Paterson.
Favorite food: Chinese
Their first grandchild is named Katherine
In 2000, Katherine returned to her home town of Haui’an, China after 63 years since she was there. There she was met the daughter of her father’s best friend, Miss Li whom she has played with as a child. They shared memories and stories. They laughed and wept together. It was a homecoming she will never forget.
Katherine’s favorite books as a child were:
- Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
- The Secret Garden (at age 8) by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- The Yearling (at age 11) by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Bridge to Terabithia
Although, I highly recommend many of Katherine Paterson’s book (I have not read all her books yet, but have read about 2/3 and there is not a book that I didn’t love).
However, this post is way too long already so I would like to focus this blog post on Bridge to Terabithia, which I believe every third culture kid (actually ALL children) should read. As I mentioned earlier, Katherine is the master at stepping into the heart and mind of a child in very venerable and difficult circumstances, especially losses. A novel such as Bridge to Terabithia can help a child understand and confront their own losses, with greater impact than reading a non-fiction book about loss and grief.
There is something very powerful about having a character in a book experience and put into words, the very emotions that are in your own heart. Katherine has the power to speak to these big emotions because she herself experienced them as a young child.
Through the eyes of a child, Katherine, is able to verbalize what it is like to loose someone – whether it’s by death or geographic separation. I have not lost a close friend by death, but I certainly have lost many, many friends in all our moving. When I read Bridge to Terabithia, all those losses flooded through me, as I walked that road with Jess, her main character. But her novel doesn’t leave Jess or I in a dark place, a place of despair. There is light at the end of the tunnel, there is hope, there will be joyful tomorrows and new friends to fill the void, and old ones to stay in our hearts forever.
Your TCK child may not have experienced deep losses yet, but they will face them full on, especially as they leave their adopted country to go back to the US for college. These types of stories can help pave the way for them, and help them process their losses.
I encourage you to read this with your child – there will be tears, but I guarantee that even if your child doesn’t talk about his/her emotions, the story of Jess and how he processed Leslie’s death will stay with them into adulthood. Actually Bridge to Terabithia is a great adult read too, as C.S. Lewis once said: “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten that is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”
Despite the subject matter, Bridge to Terabithia is not a downer. I tend to shy away from sad books but there are two novels that I have read dealing with loss that I would read again and again – one is Bridge to Terabithia (the other is The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, but that is for another post). The big emotions in Bridge to Terabithia are interspersed with light moments, the magic of everyday discoveries, the beauty of nature, the joys of a budding friendship and the humor and chaos of family life.
Two fifth grade friends, Jess and Leslie, create an imaginary world they call Terabithia. One day a tragedy leaves Jess alone and he must rely on all he learned through his friendship with Leslie to work through his grief over her death.
Facts about The Bridge to Terabithia
Katherine wrote Bridge to Terabithia as a way of making sense of a tragedy in her son David’s life, when his best friend, Lisa Hill, was struck and killed by lightning. Also, Katherine Paterson was diagnosed with cancer in 1974 – and was dealing with her own mortality when she was writing Bridge to Terabithia.
Paterson didn’t intend any specific meaning to the word Terabithia. She later realised that the name may have been inspired by the island of Terebinthia, which appears in two of C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia” books. Lewis named the island after the terebinth tree, a tree very common in the south and east of Palestine.
Bridge to Terabithia was made into two films, the most recent in 2007. Paterson’s son, David, was a producer and screenwriter on the film.
When Bridge to Terabithia won the Newbery Award, Katherine decided they were now rich enough to buy fresh milk (they used to buy powdered milk). She vowed “I will never mix another gallon of dried skim milk as long as I live” – a vow she has kept.
It was considered a controversial book and still is, due to the fact that the central motif is death.
My observations about Bridge to Terabithia and TCKs
I like the fact that Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke are from very different backgrounds and family life, but despite this, are able to overcome their differences, appreciate one another’s point of view, and develop a deep friendship. This is something many TCKs experience.
Despite the intense grief and loss Jess feels initially, Jess comes to understand that Leslie was there for him for a time and that special time they had together will always be with him.
“Now it was time for him to move out. She wasn’t there, so he must go for both of them. It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength.”
The focus of this book is Jess and Leslie’s friendship, but we often overlook several other relationships that play a vital role in Jess’s life:
Maybelle – I love his relationship with Maybelle, his little sister, who comes along side him in his grief. Siblings can be so vital in times of loss – in terms of TCKs, it is often your siblings who are there and walk through the losses with you. When the boxes are packed and all the goodbyes are over, your child’s siblings are the ones who step up to the plate, filling the void left when everyone else is left behind.
His father – it was his father who came after him the night he ran off when he received the news that Leslie had died – I love the way his father scooped him up and held him tight. He was not a man of many words, but he was there for Jess when he needed him most, sitting with him and listening to him and acknowledging his pain, allowing him to express his anger and hurt. He doesn’t try to offer pat answers or tries to fix it. Katherine mentioned in an interview that the conversation Jess and his father had after Leslie death is her favorite part of the book. I agree, I love that section of the novel.
“I hate her,” Jess said through his sobs. “I hate her. I wish I’d never seen her in my whole life.”
His father stroked his hair without speaking. Jess grew quiet. They both watched the water.”
Teachers: Jess had several teachers who came along side him. He was surprised when his teacher, who was normally distant and often angry, approached him after Leslie’s death and shared her own experiences with grief. The teacher says to him:
“When my husband died, people kept telling me not to cry. People kept trying to help me to forget. But I didn’t want to forget… So I realize, that if it’s hard for me, how much harder it must be for you”
As a TCK, there was a teacher in France who had a huge impact on me, Madame Blanc. Unlike many of the other teachers I had in French schools who had me shaking in my boots, Madame Blanc made learning fun, was creative, enthusiastic and above all, encouraging and affirming of me and my gifts, my abilities and my friendships. We often underestimate the power of other positive adults in our kids lives.
Quotes by Katherine Paterson
“She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there–like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.” From Bridge to Teribithia
“Reading can be a road to freedom or a key to a secret garden, which, if tended, will transform all of life.”
“The wonderful thing about books is that they allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else’s life. And when we do that, we learn to sympathize with other people. But the real surprise is that we also learn truths about ourselves, about our own lives, that somehow we hadn’t been able to see before.”