Today Katherine Paterson, the author of “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Jacob Have I Loved,” “The Day of the Pelican” and more than 30 other children’s books, was named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.
She summarized her platform for the reading-promotion post in four words: “Read for your life.” Paterson, who has won both the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award two times each along with numerous other national and international awards, said books had altered her life on more than one occasion and have an unsurpassed power to bring delight and wisdom to readers.
She takes over the two-year gig from the hilarious Jon Scieszka, who warned her at a ceremony at the Library that the big medal that goes with the title is best not worn through airport security, where it sets off metal detectors and raises questions, even packed in the luggage. Scieszka, the first National Ambassador, shared with the audience a recording of a special fanfare for kettle drum, trumpet, trombone and xylophone that was created for him by students in California. Scieszka was thanked by the Librarian and those assembled for his two years of zany, madcap service.
Paterson’s charge – as Scieszka’s was – will be to appear at many venues around the nation over the next two years, including the 10th annual National Book Festival sponsored by the Library of Congress, to be held in September. She will share the joys of books and literacy, especially for youngsters.
Paterson said she began writing with the goal of writing a book “that will do for a child what “The Secret Garden” did for me” when she was a somewhat lonely girl. “I remember how comforted I was by “The Secret Garden.”
A large crowd of schoolchildren attended Tuesday’s ceremony in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, asking such questions as: What’s your favorite book? (When she was their age, it was “The Yearling” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.) What’s your favorite among your own books? (She couldn’t pick one. Like her kids, she found much to love in each.) What inspired “Bridge to Terabithia?” (A childhood friendship of her son’s.) What inspired “Jacob Have I Loved?” (Hearing an adult friend complain that the friend’s mother had always loved her brother more.)
The post is cosponsored by the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book, the Children’s Book Council (CBC) and its foundation, known as Every Child a Reader. The post is financially supported by Penguin Young Readers Group, Scholastic Inc., HarperCollins Children’s Books, Random House Children’s Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, MacMillan Publishers, Holiday House, Charlesbridge, National Geographic Children’s Books, Candlewick Press and Marshall Cavendish Publishers.