Terabitha author named new children’s reading ambassador
We have a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature? Well, we do — and now we have a new one: Katherine Paterson, the author of 15 novels for young adults, including the classic, much-banned Bridge to Terabitha.
Paterson was installed as ambassador this morning by James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, according to Publishers Weekly. She takes over from popular children’s writer Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales), who was the first to hold the position.
“She’s a spectacular choice,” said Scieszka, who made 300 appearances during his two-year tenure. His books make kids laugh, he said, while Paterson’s make them cry. “It shows people the range of children’s books.”
The post of National Ambassador for Young People’s Reading was cooked up by those clever people at the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council and the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book. The idea is to raise awareness of children’s literature and its role in fostering lifetime reading.
A more distinguished selection than Paterson can hardly be imagined. At 77 she’s a two-time National Book Award winner, a two-time Newbery Medal winner, with many other honors and prizes to her credit, including a 2006 Astrid Lindgren Award for Lifetime Achievement. She’s already a longtime advocate for reading, serving as vice-president of the National Children’s Book and Literary Alliance.
“Katherine Paterson represents the finest in literature for young people,” said Billington. “Her renown is national as well as international, and she will most ably fulfill the role of a national ambassador who speaks to the importance of reading and literacy in the lives of America’s youth.”
I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read Paterson, known for writing about difficult subjects — death, for example — that blue noses consider unfit for young audiences. Her work is frequently challenged. Terabitha, for example, is No. 8 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books for the decade 1990-2000.
To me, that’s a strong recommendation. So is the love my children have for Terabitha. All three refuse to see the 2007 movie version, starring Zooey Deschanel, because they don’t want their memories and impressions of the book sullied. (They haven’t seen any of the Harry Potter movies, either).
Scieszka, whose theme as ambassador is “reaching reluctant readers,” will continue making appearances. When he gives out a recommended reading list, for example, publishers see a jump in sales, says Robin Adelson, executive director of the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader. “It does mean people are paying attention.”
Paterson’s theme will be “read for life.”
“This selection exemplifies the spectacular and diverse pool of talented authors who are writing for children in this country and denotes the breadth and strength of this program,” said Adelson. “Jon and Katherine have exceedingly different writing styles, yet they are able to captivate and connect with their respective readers in an equally magical way.”
Too many kids don’t think think of reading as fun, Adelson adds. “We need them to realize it is.”
Amen. I’ve long contended that reading is a useless activity aside from pleasure. I once wrote up my list of secrets for getting kids to read, which I will try to find for your edification (or derision, as the case may be). Meanwhile, how do — or did — you encourage your children to become readers?