Hi. I’m Katherine Paterson and I am the current
National Ambassador for Young Peoples Literature, and I can prove it. I have to flash my medal. It’s been wonderful to be the National Ambassador
of Young Peoples Literature. And when I was chosen they said I needed to choose a platform,
and the platform I chose was “Read for Your Life.” Because I think you read for your own
life, for your own enjoyment, for your own information, learning things. But you also read for the life of your family.
I think it is wonderful for families to read aloud together, and it really bothers me that
parents stopped reading aloud to their children when they can read for themselves. And that’s
just about the time, we’ve learned, that children lose interest in reading for pleasure. So
there might be a correlation there. I think our democracy depends on people who
read well, who read deeply, who read widely, who are willing to read things that have been
written by people they don’t agree with. So in a way you read for the life of your country,
the life of your democracy, and you read about other countries. So you lead — you read
for the world, in a way, for the whole life of the world. I think it is a very important thing for us
to understand how very important reading is. I went to a middle school this year as Ambassador.
And on the library door was a huge sign and it said “Libraries are the second defense
of liberty; reading is the first.” Well, I have a story about reading aloud in
my family, because I used to read aloud to my four children all the time. I said, I did
two things right as a mother of four, who all came in just over four years, so I was
pretty done in by [laughter] motherhood, in a fast way. When my youngest was a senior
in high school and all of her siblings had gone on off to college, and she was very lonely,
she was giving me a recitation of all the things I did wrong as a mother, as teenagers
are wont to do. And then she ended it up with, “And besides,
you never read aloud to me anymore!” And I thought, Mary, I gave her a copy of War and
Peace because she was one of my children who at 17 could understand War and Peace. And
she wants me to read aloud to her still. It is a sign of, of wonderful love and affection
to read aloud to someone, and we love it. So, we should never stop reading aloud. And I think we should read aloud even after
our children grow up, and we read aloud to our husbands and have them read aloud to us.
Families don’t do that anymore. They used to. And when Harry Potter came out, a lot
of families started reading aloud together, so I hope this is something that we will really
think about and do. I’m vice president of — a vice president.
Steven Kellogg is the other vice president. Mary Brigid Barrett is our president of the
National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance. And our chief aim is to promote libraries
because we feel like libraries are in danger when they’re most needed. Crazy to de-fund
libraries when the economy is terrible because where else can you go? I mean, in our town you go there to get warm,
but also you go there to get books that you couldn’t possibly afford to buy, all those
wonderful books that are right there waiting for you to read. So we are really concerned
about libraries, both in schools and train librarians in schools to help children find
the right books. And we’re also concerned that children have access to books, that they
learn to read well and widely, and become lifetime readers. The NCBLA, with the Center for the Book at
the Library of Congress, decided to do something that would bring children and young people
to the read.gov website. And also would be a place where teachers, by using the bait
of a crazy story, teach a multitude of things, from brain games to art history. And also,
Maria Salvadore, who you may or may not know, contributed a wonderful annotated list of
books that would lead children into the wild and wonderful world of books. So it does a great deal more than just have
a crazy story, but it does, at the base, have a very crazy story. Which is a game, really.
One writer would write a chapter and pass it on to the next writer to write the second
chapter, and you would get the chapter from the previous writer, and you would think,
“Oh, my word! What do I do now?” And then, of course, you would build it up to a climax
that the next writer would say, “Oh, my word! What do I do now?” [Laughter] But it was a
lot of fun. We enjoyed it. I haven’t read the print version. The book
has just come out of The Exquisite Corpse. And since you had to wait two weeks to find
out what happened next when it was online, and all you have to do is turn the page to
find out what happens next with the book, I will be interested to see if there’s as
much interest in the book as there was in the online version. It will be fun to see. Some years ago, my husband John found out
that Margaret Mahy, one of his favorite writers, had said that The Flint Heart was the book
that she most wanted children in the 21st century to be able to read. And since he was
a great admirer of Margaret’s and he’d never heard of The Flint Heart, he went on a quest
to find this book. Now, you have to understand that my husband
John thinks he’s going to outlive computers, that they’re just a passing fad. So he went
to his local bookstore and said can you find this book for me, and they did find it. And
we got this old sort of buff-colored book with an art deco engraving on the front, and
he began to read this story, and he just loved it. But you have to realize that John should have
been a Victorian or at least an Edwardian, and he gave it to me to read, and I said,
“It’s wonderful, but it’s very old fashioned.” But John wasn’t going to be discouraged by
that. He began sending it out to various publishers saying, “Don’t you want to republish this
book? It’s such a wonderful story!” And they all said no. And he sent it to four or five
publishers. And he and our son John had done a book for
Candlewick, so he sent it to Karen Lotsby [ph.] at Candlewick, because he knew Karen
had a lot of good taste. So Karen loved it too, but she said we can’t publish it the
way it is; what can we do to preserve this story? So he thought, and I think the thinking
took more than the actual doing, trying to figure out how to preserve this wonderful
story for another hundred years of reading. But, and make it accessible to modern readers. So we had to take out a lot. We called it
a free abridgement. We removed a lot of things like the political jokes of early 20th century
in England, which we figured American readers would probably not understand. And then there
were page after page of the varieties of theories that lived on Dartmoor at that time, just
lists. There was a — descriptions of flora and fauna that went on interminably. And then
Eden Phillpotts [ver.] actually liked to hear himself talk, obviously, so there was a lot
of Eden Phillpotts enjoying himself, and we enjoyed him to but we thought maybe enough
was enough. So we just — John would read a chapter,
and he would decide what was essential to the story in the chapter and what was not
essential. And then I would go upstairs to my little study and rewrite accordingly. And
a few things we had to add because Eden forgot to put in motivation in a couple of places,
or he seemed to contradict himself every now and then. But mostly it is Eden Phillpotts
language. It’s certainly all of his characters and the story is his, so we have to give him
a lot of credit. In fact, when I got the book and his name
wasn’t on the cover, I immediately emailed the publisher and I said, “Where’s Eden’s
name?” Well, it is on the title page, but not on the cover. I guess the publisher thinks
our names are better known that Eden Phillpotts’ name. People might wonder what appeals to modern
readers, because it is a — really an early 20th century story. It was published in 1910
originally. It’s just a wonderful story. And it’s — no, it’s not Katherine Paterson;
it’s Eden Phillpotts. It’s his wonderful whimsy. It’s his wonderful language. We’ve tried to
preserve as much of his language as possible, and when we had to do something else, we tried
to imitate his language. So the parts that really are made up are as
close as we can imitate Eden Phillpotts as possible because we wanted it to be a single
voice of the narrator coming through. Although the publisher suggested that since there were
two of us doing it, we should say ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ where Phillpotts says ‘I,’ so that
was one change we made in the narration. But we really did try to preserve as much of what
he did as possible. We hoped that even the steeliest flint heart
will respond to this story. Because it’s a very warm story, and it’s, it’s a wise story.
The character, The Zagabog, who is the all-knowing Zagabog, and yet so humble and so beautiful.
He’s a wonderful, wonderful character. And I think he and Unity [ph.] probably are the
two characters that will touch your heart. Unity is the five year old who begins with
every sentence with, “I wonder.” And she is just a child full of wonder and curiosity.
And she and the Zagabog become very dear friends. And in the end when the, the evil flint heart
has to be carried to be destroyed, the Zagabog says to entrust the flint heart to Unity because
she’s the, he knows she is the only one whose heart will not turn hard carrying the flint
heart. My sister Ann said that I had struck a blow
for the printed book this year because I published two absolutely gorgeous books. We’ve just
talked about The Flint Heart. The illustrator John Rocco has done an unbelievably beautiful
job with that book. But earlier in the year, my name is on the cover of a book called Brother
Sun, Sister Moon. And I came to do this because Christopher
Francis Kelly, who is a friend and longtime — with my publisher a long time ago, sent
me some examples of the work of a cut paper artist named Pamela Dalton. And he met Pamela.
He saw some of her work in a health food store, asked who had done this beautiful — I can’t
do the German word, I’m sorry. But it’s when you cut with scissors, and then you — what
Pam does is she cuts out the design with Xacto knives. She says she uses a blade every half
hour. And then she dyes it with coffee. And then she paints it with watercolors and pastes
it on a black background. When Christopher saw the work, he was astounded.
He knocked on Pamela’s door and said would you like to do a book? And she said, yes,
and she would love to do a book using St. Francis of Assisi. So Christopher asked me
if I would be willing to write, rewrite — I seem to be only rewriting this year — rewrite
for modern reasons the hymn to creation, Brother Sun, Sister Moon. And it was a wonderful exercise for me as
well to read St. Francis’ ancient words and try to make them my own. I really, really
loved, loved what happened to me as I was doing that. The impact on me of taking somebody else’s
words and trying to reframe them, first of all, I’m very humble because I know the two
writers that I reworked this year are, are wonderful writers. And so you approach it
with a sense of humility: how dare I, in a sense, do this? And yet you’re eager to make
those words so much a part of yourself that when they come out they’re fresh. My last novel was The Day of the Pelican,
which I wrote because our church had sponsored refugees from Kosovo. And I began to delve
into the history of that tiny country, smaller than the State of Vermont, if you can believe
it, but whose bloody history goes back many, many, many, many, many, many years. And you look at it and you read it and you
think, ‘There are no good guys. Who are the good guys here?’ [Laughter] But the, the terrible
suffering that the Albanian Kosovars went through under Serbian oppression. And many
had to flee. Their homes were destroyed, many were massacred. And this family came to our
church. And then you have the adjustment of living in a new land. And they were Muslim.
They went through 9/11. So they thought they had left prejudice and
oppression behind, and suddenly they find that they’re considered the enemy by some
in this new country. So it’s a hard story. I hope it’s not a story that is without hope.
I think, I think it does show hope and resilience and also shows the strength of family. This
family hung together through all kinds of terrible things and triumphed. And beyond the family there is the community,
the caring community eventually of the people that welcome them to Vermont. The Christian
Church, because they’re very suspicious of Christians, because it was the Christians
who persecuted them in their native land. And then gradually the school community begins
to accept them and to care for them. People will ask me about it, hope in children’s
books. And they say, “Well, don’t you have to have hope if it’s a children’s book?” And
I think, if you write a book and then tack hope on the end there’s something really wrong
with that. You write out of yourself. If you’re a person of hope, then there’s going to be
hope in your book. If you have no hope as a person, then probably [laughter] that will
be reflected in your book. The book is who the author is, for better or for worse. And I’m not always proud of what comes out
in my books, but I know it’s who I am. At an almost subconscious level, it comes out.
So if you’re a person of hope, then the book will have hope. Even if things look very dreary
and hopeless in the course of the story. It is sort of an amazing feeling to know that
your books are being read all over the world. I got in the fan mail pack the other day a
picture from Syria, if you will believe it, of all these children reading my books. And
I thought, “Oh, my goodness. In the middle of what’s going on in Syria, here are these
kids reading my books and writing to me to tell me how much they loved my books.’ How
can you explain that? I mean, it’s a miracle to me. It’s a miracle to me that any reader loves
what’s so close to your own heart. I know when I wrote Bridge to Terabithia, I thought
nobody is going to understand this book who is not named Paterson. But somehow I have
realized over the years that if you write from the deepest part of yourself, the reader
will respond from the deepest part of herself or himself. And it’s, it’s a miracle. And
that the best thing about being a writer, is that — having a reader who responds in
this way. People want me to give advice. I never even
gave advice to my own children. I don’t know how I can give advice to all the children
of the world! Except read! [Laughter] I think that’s good advice: read, read, read! And
be open to people whose ideas might be different from your own. Try to learn from people. Listen
to people. I’ve had some experiences of being on committees
of very strong-minded people, and have just been amazed at how people who are really intelligent
and well-read can listen to each other and learn from each other, and have their minds
changed if the argument is strong enough. And I think that’s what we need in this country
desperately right now. And I think reading helps you get there, because
you’re reading all kinds of things, all kinds of ideas. You’re having to test your own ideas
and maybe change your minds sometimes. I’ve written a lot of historical fiction.
I don’t get a lot of credit for historical fiction except in certain places. I did two
books of historical fiction that are going to have big birthdays next year. I did Lyddie,
which is the story of a young woman who goes from Vermont to work in the mills of Lowell,
Massachusetts. When I started that book, I had just moved to Vermont. I didn’t know anything
about Vermont history, and I knew less than nothing about the industrial revolution in
Massachusetts. So I started knowing nothing. And I had to learn from the ground up. And I did a lot of reading, and there are
wonderful letters that the mill girls wrote back to their families telling about their
lives in the mills. There are newspapers that they published. There are some books written
about it, but the words of the girls themselves were the things that really thrilled me and
got me interested in the story. Then of course I went to Lowell, and they
have a wonderful park there and its Tsongas Educational Center wrote to me this year and
said we’re having a big celebration next year, would you please come and talk about Lyddie,
because Lyddie to my thrill is one of the books that they use when they’re taking children
through tours of the mill. They say, well, first question we ask a group of school children
is, “Have you read Lyddie? And if you’ve read Lyddie, then you will know.” And they even had a program, “A Day in the
Life of Lyddie,” and children would come and they would have a boardinghouse meal, they
would go to the weaving floor, they — you know, just going through the day that Lyddie
would have experienced in the 1840s. So, you know, I love the fact that I knew nothing
when I started, and yet the people who know the most think my book is valuable. Isn’t
that great? [Laughter] I can’t believe it. Well, teachers use Lyddie all the time. I
had no idea that there were so few books on the Industrial Revolution when I published
it. I wrote it because I was so thrilled with the idea of those Vermont farm girls going
to Lowell. I had no idea that it was going to become a very popular classroom book. But
teachers tell me over and over again how important it is for them, usually at the middle school
level, to have the kids read that, and they get a picture of what it was like to work
in those factories, so that the words in the history book come alive for them. Lowell, Massachusetts, is celebrating in 2012
the hundredth anniversary of the Bread and Roses strike. And so there’s going to be a
citywide read of Bread and Roses, Too. There again, I didn’t know anything about the Bread
and Roses strike when I started. I began writing that book because there’s a picture in our
library in Barre, Vermont of the children from the Lawrence strike who came to be taken
care of in Barre, Vermont during the strike. And I thought there’s a story behind that
picture, and I began to work with the picture, and then I began to read all of the newspapers
of the period, and then I began to… There was no single book on that strike, which is
very hard to believe. The same year Bread and Roses, Too was published,
a non-fiction book called Bread and Roses was published. Now, if that book had been
published two years earlier, it would have been such a help to me because it is a wonderful,
wonderful book about the strike. But it is the only single book about the whole strike
that I know of. There are chapters in other books. But this is probably the most important
labor strike in American history. And one of the most successful because the strikers
got everything they asked for. They should have asked for a lot more, but they got everything
they asked for in that strike. So what can fiction do that — what could
Bread and Roses, Too that Bread and Roses hadn’t done? Well, it introduces it to young
people, for one thing, in a way that a non-fiction book written for adults does not. It gets
them involved with the actual, with an actual person. A fictional person, persons, to be
sure, a boy and a girl are the chief characters in that book. You care about these people. And I’ve often said that what you, you need
books about countries all over the world so you’ll have a friend in that country, and
you have a friend in that century, or a friend in that time that sort of helps you feel what
it must have been like in that time. Non-fiction is more often from the outside because a good
non-fiction writer is not going to say what people said unless it’s actually written somewhere
and you know that’s what they said. And he’s not going to say how people felt because he
can’t, we can’t, be sure how somebody feels in a situation. But the novelist is free. She can put feelings.
She can put feelings and words into character, into fictional characters. And that’s how
we, how we feel into history, as it were. I had a very strange experience once. My first
three novels were historical novels set in Japan. And a man, grown man, said to me — he’d
read the The Sign of the Chrysanthemum, which was my first novel, and he said, “It was the
strangest thing. I knew, somehow, how a Japanese boy in the 12th century felt.” And I thought,
the feelings in that book were written by a middle-aged white woman [laughter] in the
20th century. But the fact that he had, he thought he felt like a 12th century Japanese
boy was a compliment to the writer [laughter] at any rate, because that’s what you want
the reader to experience. Hi, I’m Katherine Paterson and I’m reading
aloud from The Flint Heart, which my husband and I abridged from Eden Phillpott’s 1910
fantasy. This is a scene where Charles, one of the main characters, first meets the pixie. “After this there was a long silence and Charles,
who had a kind heart and liked to talk of things that he knew interested people, asked
the pixie about the book he was reading because he thought the Pixie would be pleased to talk
about it. ‘The work I am perusing happens to be a dictionary,’ answered the fairy. ‘There
is much pleasure and profit to be won from the pages of a dictionary. I’ve read and studied
every letter of the alphabet. All but ‘z.’ You may have observed that I never use any
word beginning with that letter. The reason is that I have not yet studied it.” “I know two words beginning with ‘z,’ said
Charles. ‘You surprise me. I should not have expected that. What are they?’ ‘Zebra and
zany,’ answered Charles. ‘Thank you. I’ve met the zebra within works of natural history,’
said D’Quincy. ‘But zany is unfamiliar to me. What do you mean by it?’ ‘A chap who plays
the clown, who’s foolish.’ ‘Capital,’ said the fairy. ‘I’m tired of calling the other
fairies fools. Now I can call them zanies instead. It will make a nice change.'” “I thought all fairies were sharp as needles,”
said Charles, quite surprised by the idea of foolish fairies. ‘Far from it. Society
of all ranks consists mostly of fools. We people of brains, I include you because you
know two words beginning with ‘z,’ we clever people have to think for those who can’t think
for themselves.’ ‘How lucky I am,’ said Charles, ‘to have met such a wonderful clever pixie.
For if most of them are thickheaded, they couldn’t have helped me. Now I’ll tell you
why I’ve come.'” “Then he told D’Quincy about his father and
how he had changed and how all the children, except John and including Ship, had held a
meeting to decide what to do. ‘After we decided on a present, the question was what should
it be. Unity, our little sister who is five, suggested I should come and ask the pixies,
and here I am.’ D’Quincy thought for a few moments. He didn’t have the slightest idea
what kind of present the Jago children should get for Billy Jago, but he pretended that
he knew all about it.” “The problem is not difficult of solution.
Many far more profound cases than this have come under my notice, and I’ve never had anybody
find fault with my decision. But it happens that next Tuesday evening the Zagabog, a ‘z’
by the way, visits us. It will be a pleasant evening with music, recitation, dancing and
a dinner of 38 courses, dessert ices and the best of wines.’ ‘That’s all very interesting,’
said Charles, ‘but I’m afraid it won’t help me.’ ‘It may or may not,’ said D’Quincy. That
rests with you. The Zababog, of course, knows everything. I suppose you are aware of that?’
‘I’ve never heard of him.’ ‘And never heard of his agent in advance, the Snick?’ ‘Never.’
‘Then I withdraw what I said about your being a clever person,’ said the fairy. ‘I’m very
sorry,’ said Charles, ‘but it was no good pretending that I did if I didn’t.’ ‘Not a
bit,’ D’Quincy agreed. ‘The Zagabog is usually the best, most brilliant, and the wisest creature
of the universe. What he doesn’t know doesn’t matter.” “Now, I’ll tell you what I can do. Our leading
statesmen, philosophers, and men of letters have each received permission to bring one
guest to the banquet. You may come as my guest, and I have little or no doubt that the Zababog,
if I make a favor of it with the Snick, will answer your question.’ ‘That is very kind
I’m sure. I don’t know how to thank you Dear Mister Quincy,’ said Charles. ‘You may have
it in your power to do me a service on some future occasion,’ said the fairy. ‘It is not
probable because we move in very different walks of life, but the world is full of possibilities,
so who knows. We should expect you then at 8:15 because the king will arrive at 8:30.
Be punctual, for the king is the soul of punctuality. It is his only strong point, between ourselves.'” “I will be there, but it seems almost too
much to have dinner with the king and the Zagabog and the Snick, and you.’ ‘It is dazzling,
no doubt, and a great experience for a human boy,’ agreed D’Quincy. ‘You must not, of course,
expect to be the guest of the evening. The Zababog is the lion of the occasion. You will
come merely as my friend, but I may tell you that any friend of mine will have a certain
amount of attention paid to him.’ ‘I hope not,’ said the boy. ‘I only want to sit in
a corner and see it all. Or I might help with the dishes.’ D’Quincy was much annoyed by
this.” “You must come in the spirit of a guest, not
in the spirit of a footman,’ he said. ‘You must be a grand and haughty as you know how,
out of compliment to me. I need hardly to say we dress for dinner.’ ‘Of course,’ said
Charles, ‘so do I.’ ‘Indeed? Forgive me, but I should hardly have expected that you did.’
‘Always,’ said Charles, ‘and also for breakfast and supper.’ D’Quincy was quite impressed.
He had always felt that dressing for dinner was a matter of pure convention. ‘Why dress
for dinner if you don’t dress for breakfast.’ ‘Why, indeed,’ said Charles. ‘There is an
explanation, I hope,’ said the fairy. ‘During the course of the banquet that you will take
occasion to mention pretty loudly how you always dress for breakfast.’ ‘Certainly, if
you wish it,’ said Charles. ‘It will show that you possess the precious gift of originality
and may add to your importance.'” I’m Katherine Paterson and I’m reading from
The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, which is a progressive story game played by 20 celebrated
authors and illustrators. And I’m reading from a chapter which I wrote, which is called
“The Lost Clue.” “‘Do?’ said an ominous yet familiar voice
outside their berth. ‘There’s nothing you can do, kiddies, it is exactly 47 ticks of
the clock. This train will come to the final bridge and I do mean final.’ ‘Boppo?’ Joe
stuck his head out between the curtains to see the painted face and bright red nose they
thought they’d left far behind. ‘What are you doing on this train?’ Boppo laughed. It
was an evil unclownlike sound that sent shivers down our hero’s spinal columns. ‘Do you think
you could run away so easily? But no time to chat. I have to detrain before D train
demolishes.’ And with that Boppo raced away in the direction of the caboose. ‘Pull the
emergency cord, Nancy!’ cried Joe as he leapt from the berth and gave chanced.” “Nancy yanked the red handle above the berth.
Almost immediately the great train shuddered and squawked to a stop. In the distance she
could hear it, a gigantic explosion. She pushed her way down the aisle, which was quickly
filling with passengers who were furious at being so rudely awakened. She found Joe staring
off the back of the train. Boppo was long gone.” “‘Nancy, we’ve got to get off this train,
now, while it’s stopped.’ ‘And not warn the police about Boppo?’ Nancy was horrified.
‘No,’ she said. First we need to make an anonymous tip, ‘if only we had a cell phone.'” “There are lots of people milling around,’
said Joe, ‘I’ll pickpocket a phone. Joe had picked up a lot of useful tricks working in
and around the circus. ‘That’s dishonest,’ said Nancy, who is highly moral. ‘But I guess
it’s better than letting potential killers get away.'” “A phone was appropriated from a passenger
in the dining car and the authorities were called. With a clear conscious, our noble
twins left the borrowed phone on the rear platform, climbed off the train and walked
forward past the stalled engine. Ahead in the moonlight they could see on their left
the shining rails upon a second railway trestle, and on the right the twisted metal remains
of the bridge that their train had been scheduled to cross.” “Now what?’ said Joe, peering down into the
deep gorge that lay beneath the once twin spans. ‘It would take hours in broad daylight
to hike down and up this chasm, and we’d never be able to swim that roaring river at the
bottom anyway.’ ‘Fortunately, the moon is bright,’ said the valiant girl, ‘and having
been raised in a circus we can — we are expert tightrope walkers. We will walk across
the surviving bridge.’ ‘Without a net?’ ‘Naturally,’ said Nancy. ‘Take off your shoes. We’ll do
it sock-footed.” “We won’t say that Joe was afraid, but he
was a better pickpocket than acrobat. Still by humming a cheery tune and never ever once
looking down through the gaps between the ties into the abyss, or to the side of the
mangled wreckage of the destroyed bridge, he managed to follow his sister across the
treacherous rail.” “‘Well,’ said Joe, ‘that wasn’t so bad. Now
all we have to do is follow the clues, find the pieces, put together the exquisite corpse,
and rescue our parents.’ ‘Look at the birthday card again,’ said Nancy. ‘See if it gives
us any clues to begin with.’ ‘I left it on the train,’ cried Joe. ‘I’ve lost our only
clue. ‘Perhaps I can help, dearies.’ Coming toward them out of the night shadows was a
sight so frightening, it was almost enough to make them turn and race back across the
ominous gorge.” And you’ll have to turn the page to find out
what happens next.