three cheers for Katherine Paterson (and dragons)

Last week I saw that John Scieszka‘s reign as the first National Ambassador for Children’s Literature is coming to an end, and Katherine Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins, and more, will take up the mantle.

In the New York Times article about the appointment, our new Ambassador talks about who she writes for.

But it wasn’t her experience as a mother that gave her the ability to tap into the emotional landscape of children.

“People often say, ‘Now that your children are grown up, how can you still write for children?’ ” she said.

“And I say, ‘I never wrote for them.’ I always write for the child in me, and she is still in there.”

I love this view of writing for the child within – whether that child is four or pushing on the door of adulthood.

This quote reminds me of another, from Editorial Anonymous, here.

To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton,

We don’t tell children stories to teach them that there are dragons.
Children know there are dragons; they meet them every day.
We tell children stories to teach them that dragons can be slain.

A storyteller who can tap into the memories and feelings of childhood and adolescence can make a story resonant and compelling.  Children do not need writers (or illustrators) to talk down to them – they need us to see them, to hear them, to reflect their experience in honest ways.

Cheers to Katherine Paterson!

listening to: Loreena McKennitt, The Mummer’s Dance

6 Comments

  • There are days when my child within is right at the surface and other days when she stays a little deeper. My favorite and least favorite days are when she appears unbidden. They are favorite days when she reminds me of the joy of just being alive (riding on the back of grocery carts). They are my least favorite days when she takes me down bad memory lane to those events that I always hope are buried forever but, sadly, are not.
    I am one of those adults (as you know) who enjoys reading youth literature especially when the story reaches her and we read the story together.

    Thanks for this post…I needed it today.

  • That one can go both ways – i hear you, friend. I want my writing to resonate that way – for the YA reader, and the YA within. I’m working on it. Hey, would you care to be a test-reader?

    (Yikes, did I just say that aloud?)

  • Oh, oh, oh! That’s exciting. And scary. And exciting. You will be an AWESOME test reader – you know and love the genre already. You can tell me if the story hangs together, if you want to turn the pages. (And I hope you WILL want to turn the pages.) I’ll let you know when I get to a ready point.

    Thank you!

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