Katherine Paterson: Tackling Tough Topics

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Katherine Paterson was born in China in 1932 to missionary parents who immersed themselves in the local culture. As a result, Chinese was Katherine’s first language, and she found English challenging when she encountered it after her family had to leave China during World War II. Master it she did, however, and went on to write numerous books in English, including sixteen novels for young people which have won a wide variety of awards and accolades. Two of her novels were awarded the Newbery Medal (Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved) and two won the National Book Award (The Master Puppeteer and The Great Gilly Hopkins). Her newest title, My Brigadista Year, follows a teenager involved with Fidel Castro’s literacy campaign in Cuba.

Paterson’s novels range from historic to contemporary and often deal with difficult topics like jealousy, alienation, or death, but her characters learn to deal with adversity, as everyone must. They overcome, and move on with lives made stronger by what they have endured. As Paterson says, “That’s what books do for you. They give you practice doing difficult things in life. In a way, they prepare you for things that you are going to have to face or someone you know and care about is going through.”

Bread and Roses, Too

Jake and Rosa, two children, form an unlikely friendship as they try to survive and understand the 1912 Bread and Roses strike of mill workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Bridge to Terabithia

The life of a ten-year-old boy in rural Virginia expands when he becomes friends with a newcomer who subsequently meets an untimely death trying to reach their hideaway, Terabithia, during a storm.

The Great Gilly Hopkins

An eleven-year-old foster child tries to cope with her longings and fears as she schemes against everyone who tries to be friendly.

Jacob Have I Loved

Having felt deprived all her life of schooling, friends, mother, and even her name by her twin sister, Louise finally begins to find her identity.

My Brigadista Year

Based on a true historical event, this is a story about a young Cuban teenager who volunteers for Fidel Castro’s national literacy campaign that taught people throughout the impoverished countryside to read.