Bridge to Terabithia : Biography
Katherine Paterson was born Katherine Womeldorf to American missionary parents in Tsing-Tsiang Pu, China, on October 31, 1932. She was the third of the five children of George Raymond and Mary Goetchius Womeldorf. Their missionary work was interrupted twice by war, and the second time they had to move back to the United States permanently. In the United States the family lived in Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia. Paterson graduated from King College in Bristol, Tennessee, in 1954 and got an M.A. in English Bible from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia. In 1957 she went to Kobe, Japan, to the Naganuma School of Japanese Language before becoming a Christian Education Assistant for pastors in rural areas of Shikoku Island. This background became material for three of her novels set in Japan.
After four years in Japan she returned to New York, where she obtained a M.R.E. at the Union Theological Seminary in 1962. That same year she married John Barstow Paterson, a Presbyterian minister. She became the mother of two sons, John and David, and two adopted daughters, one Chinese, Elizabeth Polin, and one Apache Kiowa, Mary Katherine. She began writing while a young mother. Bridge to Terabithia, for instance, came out of the incident where her son's best friend Lisa died, struck by lightning. Paterson is known for portraying the universal suffering in life, and the way characters must rise to heroic strength through spiritual growth.
Her first three novels have Japanese settings and characters. The Sign of the Chrysanthemum (1973) and Of Nightingales That Weep (1974) use the twelfth-century civil wars between the Heike and Genji clans of Japan for historical background. The Master Puppeteer (1975) is about the famine of 1783–87 in Osaka that reduces the citizens to desperate measures to avoid starvation.
Bridge to Terabithia (1977) differs in its American and contemporary setting. The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978) grew out of her own failure as a foster mother for two Cambodian children. It is set in Takoma Park, Maryland, where her husband was a Presbyterian minister. Angels and Other Strangers: Family Christmas Stories (1979) were originally read at her husband's church services. Jacob Have I Loved (1980) is the story of a young woman's jealousy of her twin and how she overcomes her bitterness. Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom (1983) is historical fiction set in 1850 with the revolt of the Taiping Tienkuo against the Manchu rulers. Other fiction includes Come Sing, Jimmy Jo (1985), Lyddie (1991), Flip-Flop Girl (1994) and Jip: His Story (1996). Paterson has won many awards, including the Newbery Medal for Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, both of which were made into films; the National Book Award for The Master Puppeteer and The Great Gilly Hopkins, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1978, and she was nominated for the international Hans Christian Andersen award in 1980 and the Laura Ingalls Wilder award in 1986.