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.


Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

One of the most respected contemporary authors of young adult literature, Katherine Paterson was born Katherine Womeldorf on October 31, 1932, to Christian missionary parents in Tsing-Tsiang pu, China. The family was forced to flee China twice during the Japanese occupation of World War II, and after the second time, when Paterson was nine, they remained in the U.S. Though her experiences in Japan had taught her to regard the Japanese as "the enemy," after receiving her bachelor's degree from King College in Tennessee and her master's degree from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Paterson went to Japan as a missionary from 1957 to 1961. Like the heroes in many of her novels, she came to love the people and culture she had once feared and hated.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Katherine Paterson Study Guide

Subscribe Now

She married John Bars tow Paterson, a clergyman, in 1962 and had two sons and adopted two daughters. She missed Japan, began writing stories about the country, and in 1973 returned there with her daughter to research the Japanese puppet theater. The novel that resulted from this trip, The Master Puppeteer, was the third in a series for young people about Japan and won the prestigious National Book Award for 1977.

After The Master Puppeteer, Paterson wrote several novels about contemporary young people living in the semirural, mid-Atlantic part of the U.S. Like The Master Puppeteer, these highly realistic novels all involve youngsters who have problems with their parents. All have received high praise: Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved won Newbery Medals, and The Great Gilly Hopkins won a National Book Award.


Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Catherine Paterson was born October 31, 1932, in Qing Jiang, China to George Raymond and Mary Goetchius Womeldorf, Presbyterian missionaries. As a child, Paterson was often read to by her mother and she taught herself how to read before she entered school. During the next few years, Paterson moved fifteen times to places such as Shanghai, China; Richmond, Virginia; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Because she moved around so much, Paterson often felt like an outsider, much like the children who appear in many of her novels. Paterson attended King College in Bristol, Tennessee where she received an A.B. in English Literature. After college, Paterson taught briefly in an elementary school in Lovettsville, Virginia, before returning to Richmond, Virginia, where she earned a masters degree from the Presbyterian School for Christian Education. Upon graduation, Paterson became a missionary in Japan, working there from 1957 to 1961. She met and married John Barstow...

(The entire section contains 1575 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Katherine Paterson study guide. You'll get access to all of the Katherine Paterson content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Biography
  • Critical Essays
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Critical Essays