Katherine Paterson

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Katherine Paterson Biography

Katherine Paterson’s first language is Chinese despite the fact that she was born to English-speaking parents. Her parents were missionaries in China, and the family moved fifteen times during Paterson’s childhood, which, along with her difficulties in learning to read and write in English, contributed to her sense of isolation and loneliness as a young girl. These themes found their way into her later works of fiction for young adults. Her most famous, and most controversial, book is Bridge to Terabithia. It has been both praised and criticized for its frank treatment of death. Paterson’s writing has won many awards, including the 1977 Newbery Medal for Bridge to Terabithia.

Facts and Trivia

  • Paterson was a missionary in Japan after college. Much of her writing incorporates the Japanese and Chinese cultures with which she was so familiar.
  • Paterson once wrote Sunday school curriculum for fifth- and sixth-grade students.
  • Paterson is currently the vice president of the National Children’s Book and Literary Alliance.
  • Bridge to Terabithia was inspired by the death of Paterson’s son's childhood friend. 
  • 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.


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In December 1992, a parent of a fifth grader in Kansas objected to Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia (1977) for its language and its portrayal of a nontraditional family. The novel was withdrawn from classrooms. This book has also been challenged in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, and California, and it has appeared several times on the list of the ten most banned books in the United States. Other objections have centered on its portrayal of alleged “New Age” religion, disrespect for authority, theological treatment of death, and negative portrayals of Christianity. Another book, The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978), has been challenged in schools in North Carolina, Connecticut, and Texas for its use of profanity, obscenities, and derogatory remarks about God.

In an interview about censorship challenges to Bridge to Terabithia, Paterson noted, “As the daughter of missionaries, as a missionary myself, and as a minister’s wife, I care deeply about the moral lives of children.” Paterson believes that books are uniquely suited to develop children’s inner strength and argues that censorship of children’s books leads to children’s “intellectual and spiritual poverty.”

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