Vermont Conversation: Katherine Paterson on writing books that are beloved — and banned

“If you write a book that has any power in it, it has the power to offend,” says acclaimed children’s author Katherine Paterson. “I don’t want to write a book that has no power in it, so I have to run the risk of offending.” courtesy photo

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Katherine Paterson is one of America’s most celebrated writers for children. The author of more than 40 books, she is one of just six writers who have twice won the prestigious Newbery Medal, for Bridge to Terabithia in 1978 and Jacob Have I Loved in 1981. She has also won the National Book Award twice. In 2000, Paterson was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.

Paterson frequently writes about children confronting difficult issues. At 89 years old, the Vermont author shows little sign of slowing down. She recently published a new book, Birdie’s Bargainabout a child with a parent heading off to fight in Iraq.

Paterson’s books are among the most beloved in children’s literature. They are also among the most banned. Book banning has lately been enjoying a revival, as books are being pulled from library shelves in “unprecedented” numbers, according to the American Library Association. Among the latest crop of books to be yanked from library shelves are Maus, the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust by Art Spiegelman; Beloved, by Tony Morrison; and The 1619 Projecta bestselling history of slavery in the US that grew out of a special issue of the New York Times Magazine.

Bridge to Terabithia rose to No. 8 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books for the 1990s; her book The Great Gilly Hopkins was No. 20 on that list. Only a handful of authors had their books banned more often in the 1990s, including Maya Angelou, Mark Twain and John Steinbeck.

“If you write a book that has any power in it, it has the power to offend,” Paterson says. “I don’t want to write a book that has no power in it, so I have to run the risk of offending.”

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