Katherine (Womeldorf) Paterson 1932–
American novelist, short story writer, and essayist.
Paterson is considered one of the most important contemporary authors for young adults. Much of her fiction is concerned with moral decisions and the process of self-realization in her young protagonists. Paterson has been praised for investigating topics not often treated in young adult fiction. Among the issues she examines are destructive emotional responses to difficult situations, such as the death of friends. Paterson's early work is classified as historical fiction, while her more recent novels deal with contemporary problems.
Paterson was born in China and lived there until the age of twelve, when she came to the United States. She later received a degree in theology and served as a missionary in Japan for several years. Paterson's knowledge of Japanese culture and history has provided the background for three of her novels. The Sign of the Chrysanthemum (1973), Of Nightingales That Weep (1974), and The Master Puppeteer (1976) share historical Japan as their setting and are highly regarded for their accurate depictions of Japanese civilization. Critics also note that these novels include well-developed characters and suspenseful plots. The Master Puppeteer won a National Book Award.
Beginning with Bridge to Terabithia (1977), Paterson shifted her setting to contemporary urban America. The novel, which won a Newbery Medal, brings together Jess and Leslie, two teenagers with different cultural backgrounds, and focuses on their friendship and Jess's reaction to Leslie's death. Paterson was praised for creating believable characters and for her sensitive treatment of death. Another novel which explores modern concerns, The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978), revolves around a foster child who must return to her real mother after learning to love her replacement mother. This work won a National Book Award.
Jacob Have I Loved (1980) is considered by many critics to be Paterson's best work. In this story of a teenage girl who learns to cope with the impressive accomplishments of her twin sister, Paterson examines such topics as sibling rivalry, religious beliefs, and the importance of love between family members. Although some critics were dismayed at the lack of humor in this novel, especially compared to some of her earlier works, most asserted that Paterson's characters in this work were among her most impressive creations and that her setting evoked the richness of the Chesapeake Bay area. Paterson won a second Newbery Medal for Jacob Have I Loved.
In her recent novel Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom (1983) Paterson returns to historical fiction, this time setting her story in nineteenth-century China. Like her early work, this novel combines an exciting adventure story with extensive historical detail and believable characters.
(See also CLC, Vol. 12; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 7; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.; and Something about the Author, Vol. 13.)