Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Katherine Paterson: Queen of the Children

Did you hear the wonderful news?

Katherine Paterson was named Queen of Children's books!

OK, not actually Queen. But sort of, in a way.

She was named the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress and a whole host of children's literature mucky-mucks who know their stuff.

This is only the second year the post has existed. Last year it was held by Jon Scieska. (think The Stinky Cheese Man) I love that the two of them represent the first two years of this post. Jon, in all his rollicking good humor and incredible out-reached hand to boys (see Guys Read), he has touched the here-and-now of reading in wonderful new ways. Katherine Paterson, on the other hand, to me represents the falling head-over-heels-into-the-rabbit hole of reading.

In fifth grade, there was a contest, the Book Worm Contest. And I was in it to win it. I am not a competitive person by nature, but this was one contest that was right up my alley. We had composition books on the upper right-hand corner of our desks and as soon as we completed a new chapter book during sustained-silent-reading time (or at home) we could write our summary and move on to the next book. When I started Bridge to Terabithia, it was just another conquest. A book to put in my log. But soon after I started reading, and met Jesse and then Leslie, I did not want it to end. I loved them, I loved their friendship, I loved their magical world of Terabithia, and I loved that Jesse wanted Leslie to be Queen. I slowed my reading down and tried to make it last. And when (**Spoiler Alert***)

Leslie died, I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that it happened and I specifically remember thinking I couldn't believe that the author trusted me with something so big. Was anyone else reading this book? Were they chosen too? At that point in my life, no human being or even loved pet had passed away. I'd had a friend move to Connecticut, but I knew that was not death. I remember having tears in my eyes at my desk in Mrs. Summers class, and trying to hide it. And I remember walking out of the classroom with the rest of my classmates feeling older, wiser, and more ready to face my world. 

My mom knows (because she made my bookworm cake when I won the contest) that I adore Katherine Paterson. My Mom loves to shower people with gifts and that's why I not only do I have all of Katherine Paterson fiction books, I also have a compilation of her essays and speeches (she has won more than a few awards). I love her essays and speeches. One of my favorites is her acceptance speech for the National Book Award for the Master Puppeteer. Here is an excerpt:

"But it's not true that I simply write for myself. I do write for children. For my own four children and for others who are faced with the question do they dare become an adult, responsible for their own lives and the lives of others. They remind me of the Biblical children of Israel, trembling on the bank of Jordan. You'll remember that Moses sent spies ahead, who came back to tell the richness of the land. But ten of the spies advised the Israelites to turn back. The cities are fortified, they said, and the people are giants. It would be better to return to slavery in Egypt or to wander aimlessly in the desert.

I don't want to be a spy like Joshua or Caleb. I have crossed the river and tangled a few giants, but I want to go back and say to those who are hesitating, Don't be afraid to cross over. The promised land is worth possessing, and we are not alone. I want to be a spy for hope."

You are a spy for hope, Ambassador Paterson. That day leaving Mrs. Summers' fifth grade classroom I was infused, saturated and permeated with that hope. May God bless you and the year ahead.


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