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Terabitha author named new children’s reading ambassador

January 5, 2010

Katherine Paterson

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.

Jon Scieszka

“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?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice Simmons permalink
    January 5, 2010 2:04 pm

    Why is “Terebitha” so “challenged”?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 6, 2010 12:46 am

      Because it deals with death and loss, things some adults must think children don’t know about.

  2. alexis permalink
    January 5, 2010 2:46 pm

    I do love Terabitha! And I don’t want to see the movie either. I think that reading to your kids when they are little is the best way to get them to become readers themselves.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 6, 2010 12:47 am

      Yes, that’s the key thing. Surprisingly, it turns out to be important to continue reading to (or with) children even after they can read for themselves. Treasure Island, anyone?

  3. DeeBishoff permalink
    January 5, 2010 2:51 pm

    I read all the Harry Potter books and saw some of the movies as well. There are times when I think a book is so much better than the movie made, but in this case, I loved both. As to encouraging children to read, I think that sometime children just read because they emulate their parents, have access to books and some read to at an early age. My grandparents, parents, me and now my adult children and my grandchildren all love reading. My children don”t have as much time to read as they would like because of careers and small children but still read when they can. Now that I am retired I am able to read an average of 2 or more books weekly. Love being able to do that!

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 6, 2010 12:49 am

      It is very important for children to have books in their home — surrounded by books is about right — and to see their parents reading books, newspapers and magazines by choice. Children do tend to imitate their parents. Believe it or not.

  4. rachel permalink
    January 5, 2010 3:57 pm

    I too love “Bridge to Terabithia.” As in the book. Isn’t Zooey Deschanel a little big to be playing a role like that?

    I reread “Bridge to Terabithia” in college and it held up, which I was impressed by.

    I’m all for the promotion of reading, and I agree that Paterson is a great person to do it. It sounds like Jon Scieszka has been really effective during his tenure.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 6, 2010 12:49 am

      Zooey played an adult character, a teacher or something. I listed her because she’s the most well known actor in the movie.

  5. Tommy permalink
    January 5, 2010 4:01 pm

    J.K. Rowling shows up on that list of challenged authors. Her work was challenged in 01 and 02 yet not in subsequent years. Strange. Maybe one of your brood could deposit a theory here as to why.

    Judy Blume has 5 books on the list. So my kids will read Blume and Rowling and Paterson along with Scieszka. Or better said I will encourage them to read these authors. My parents were fond of books so I emulated their fondness, yet they never tried to cram anything in my mind. Subtle suggestions worked best. Also, my mom would read the books at the same time as I so we could spend time discussing them.

    The best thing they did, and I think any parent could do was allow me to read whatever (within reason) that I wanted to read. I am sure they weren’t thrilled when my tastes veered hard into books about ghosts and hauntings and the occult yet they didn’t ban them from the house.

    “Center for the Book” how cool is that?

    Pretty cool, but “Read for Life” is sub-arctic

    Born to Ride and Live to Read.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 6, 2010 12:52 am

      Well, you know, there’s a Florida Center for the Book in the Broward County Library, the first regional center founded after the one at the library of congress. Now there are centers for hte book in every state. Those Broward Library people can be creative from time to time. Jean Trebbi, a retired librarian and the first director of the Florida center, deserves most of the credit for the idea.

      • Tommy permalink
        January 6, 2010 12:48 pm

        Well I didn’t know, actually. Thank You for the information. I do remember when Jean Trebbi retired she got the Broward Library to forgive all outstanding late fees. What a gal!

        I’d like to hear your ideas on why Rowling stopped appearing on the challenged list, Chauncey.
        Still seems odd, she was writing the same story why did she stop being challenged. Also, Id still like to hear from the Potter fans.

  6. January 5, 2010 9:45 pm

    Number 8 on the most frequently challenged book is an honor. Katherine Paterson must be doing something very right. To get on that list is an honor.

  7. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    January 6, 2010 12:53 am

    Indeed, Duff. Anything that offends the bluenose crowd is almost certainly worth reading.

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