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BRATTLEBORO — Aauthor Katherine Paterson, who writes books for children and young adults, is a two-time recipient of the prestigious John Newbery Medal for Children’s Books and a two-time winner of the National Book Award.

To put that in perspective, it almost never happens.

Paterson, 92, has written over 30 books and won over 20 national and international awards. She writes with empathy, vivacity and clarity about the uncomfortable truths of the characters that immediately come to life on the page.

“Most of us who write for kids write because we want the books we needed when we were little,” Paterson told me in a 2017 interview for Vermont Business Magazine which took place at her home in Montpellier.

“If you had a totally happy childhood where everyone loved you, I’m sure you can probably write a perfectly good book for kids,” she continued. “But I think those of us who were weird and out there are ahead of the game.”

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Btowers Mmemorial THElibrary will host a presentation by Paterson at Center Congregational Church, 193 Main Street, on Friday, November 12 at 7 p.m. She will talk about her newly published novel for young people, The Birdie Affair, in honor of Veterans Day.

Paterson gave his latest book a strong Vermont flavor. The main character’s father, Birdie, is in the Vermont National Guard and about to depart for his third tour of duty in Iraq. To save money, Birdie and her family move from Brattleboro to live with her grandmother in the north, and she has to deal with being the new kid at a new school in an unfamiliar place.

Convinced that her father will not survive a third deployment, Birdie makes a deal with God: she “will be a witness to the world if… you are just going to keep my daddy safe”. But she finds the deal easier said than done, and it unexpectedly tests her faith.

“It’s a lot harder to write for young people than it is for adults,” said Starr LaTronica, director of the Brooks Memorial Library, who served as a judge for the National Book Awards and the Newbery Awards. “And anyone who’s ever written a picture book will tell you it’s like writing poetry. You have to distill down to the very essence. You can’t have an extra word, or anything inauthentic. It is much more difficult.

LaTronica said that Paterson, who has written such enduring and beloved youth books as Bridge to Terabithia, The great Gilly Hopkins, and Jacob did I like, has a knack for connecting with young readers.

“How can you not learn and feel empathy when you read about his characters?” LaTronica said. “She has such a heart in all of her books. And not in a sappy and sentimental way.

“People say you learn empathy by reading fiction. Sometimes with her it’s characters that worry you. Sometimes they are in danger. Sometimes you cry for them when they die. She really makes me take care of her characters.

“That’s why she has all these awards and other writers don’t. She really puts herself in the characters and on the page, and that’s what I love.

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Bridge to Terabithia has the dubious distinction of being on the American Library Association’s list of the most frequently contested books in the United States.

It’s a good list to be on; Paterson joins Stephen King, Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Judy Blume, Kurt Vonnegut and Jack London, among others.

For those who haven’t read the book, it tells the story of two rural youth, a boy named Jesse and a girl named Leslie, both strangers to school, who become great friends and create a fantasy world and magic called Terabithia in the forest; it is on the other side of a small stream that they cross, swinging on a rope, one at a time.

Since it was released in 1977 and shot twice later, I don’t think I need a spoiler alert. [Editor’s note: Consider this a spoiler alert, with a major plot point coming your way.]

What aspect of a young person’s book can attract such censorship? Death is what.

For example, one of the two main characters of Bridge to Terabithia dies unexpectedly. For the reader, this is quite a shock.

When Jesse goes on a day trip with his teacher, he returns to learn that the stream has swelled, the rope has broken, and Leslie has fallen and died. Her death leaves the reader unprepared and devastated, just as it leaves Jesse.

“How could you kill Leslie?” Was practically the first thing that came out of my mouth after I sat down to speak with Paterson.

Paterson’s decision to have one of his main characters die – instead of breaking an arm or a leg, for example – has earned him the most criticism.

“I get these letters from adults saying death is not a suitable topic for 10-year-olds,” Paterson told me. “But I had two children who lost friends. David was 8 and Marie 4 when friends died. It is not appropriate, but it does happen.

Children’s books that feature death run counter to an American reluctance on the subject.

“Death is a terrible thing for a child,” Paterson said. “The loss is difficult. Now people are saying, “I gave the book to this child because he suffered this terrible loss. But it should be a reversal. They should read it before anyone dies.

His writing philosophy is simple.

“You write what you can,” Paterson said. “I started to find that this was what I could do. And I was asking the same questions children asked – the vital questions of life: love and hate, life and death. Very, very basic questions.

“So you write to answer your own questions, don’t you?” I am accused of writing books that are too intense for children, and children tell me otherwise.

“My favorite story: I was at an adult conference and this woman stood up. She had obviously read my books and knew I was talking, and she was furious with me.

She said, ‘Your books are for the kids, and they’re too intense. No child will ever be able to understand them.

“And I said, ‘I would have felt judged, except the week before I got a letter from a teacher who wanted to tell me about a book report that the so-called bad boy in his class had. writing.

“He had read The great Gilly Hopkins, and he wrote, ‘This book is a miracle. Ms. Paterson understands exactly how children feel. I don’t have a good memory for details, but I do have a good emotional memory. I remember what it feels like. And even though I’m an elderly person, I still have this 9 year old and this 14 year old in me.

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The feels being an outsider is familiar territory for Paterson.

Born in China in 1929, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, she has lived in the Montpellier area since the mid-1980s, when her late husband, the Reverend John Paterson, was assigned to a church in Barre.

People respect each other in Vermont, Paterson said.

“If you write for children, you have a habit, if you go to places where writers congregate, to be taunted for just writing for children,” she said. “They say, or at least they think, ‘If you were a good writer, you would write for real people.'”

“It doesn’t happen here,” she continued. “I don’t have to apologize to anyone for writing for children. And everywhere I go, I don’t apologize. But I know what they are thinking.

After Paterson published his memoirs, Stories from my life, in 2014, which she wrote while her husband was dying, she thought she might be done with the writing.

“I was kinda brain dead,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’ll never have another idea worth pursuing. My kids roll their eyes when I say things like that. But I was like, “I had a good race, I was over 80, and even Philip Roth retired. And I don’t want to write the book that makes people think I should have stopped several books ago.

“And then I was excited about this idea and thought, ‘OK’. I was so excited to write again.

This idea turned into his 2017 book, My brigadist year, about Lora, a 13 year old girl who joins a literacy campaign launched by Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1961.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed [writing], “she said.” It was a delight. “

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