Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 14, 2010

From Pat, Pat, Pat to Bridge to Terabithia: Katherine Paterson’s Roots in Poetry

It’s a good year when Katherine Paterson, author of novels that have won Newbury and other honors, is speaking across the country to encourage reading. To celebrate Children’s Book Week, the Children’s Book Council is offering two Katherine Paterson essays as a free download here until May 24. After that, more e-chapters will be available before Clarion publishes a paperback edition of Read for Your Life: Speeches and Writings of Katherine Paterson. Several editions of Katherine’s talks and essays are already available, and these are often as moving as her fiction. My favorite is “Where is Terabithia?” which is about places real and imagined, and how the smallest details of setting can influence a novel’s creation. And since this is a Poetry Friday post, I’ll add that she quotes and muses about Gerald Manley Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child.”

The first entry in this new collection, the one available online, is the speech Katherine gave upon becoming the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in January. In “Read for Your Life,” she tells of how when children ask when she knew she was going to be a writer, she asks if they’d like to hear her first work, published when she was seven. It begins: “Pat, pat, pat./ There is the rat.” I won’t go on, in hopes you’ll click the above link and download the entire essay for yourself, because it’s wonderful, even if this poem, as Katherine is the first to note, does not point toward a promising career in literature.

She begins the next available essay, Confusion at the Crossroads, quoting the first lines of a poem she wrote nearly fifty years ago: “I am youth, standing at the crossroads of eternity./ Which path shall I take?” She notes that she can’t remember any more and is relieved that the poem has been lost. Again, I guess we’ve all read poems with this sort of tone, though nowadays the poems people write in or outside of college tend to be more dark, twisted, and jokey. There’s not much evidence of the Katherine Paterson so many of us have come to know and love from books like Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins, or The Same Stuff as Stars.

I’m in a moral-making of mood, so let me suggest that maybe we should all write a little more poetry. Good, bad, a mix of both: who knows where it might lead?

For more Poetry Friday Posts, and virtual tea and cookies, please visit: jamarattigan



  1. Yes! More poetry!

  2. How did I know you’d like that idea? 🙂

  3. Between you and Kelly, I’m inching my way to a more poetry-minded existence. But it is intimidating stuff. However, I totally understood the meaning behind “Pat, pat, pat./There is the rat.” Maybe there’s hope, after all.
    Have a great time at the conference!

  4. I am so looking forward to reading her essay (which I just printed out). It will be my Friday lunchtime treat. Thank you for sharing! Enjoy every moment of NE SCBWI this weekend. (I’m headed to my first SCBWI event, in Indiana, this weekend. Your region’s event always sounds like so much fun.)

  5. Kelly, we love your enthusiasm!

  6. Hmm, pat, pat, pat….when you get down to it, we might dig up all kinds of allusions. But of course there is hope. And you made me laugh.
    I’m really looking forward to hearing words come from Kelly’s mouth instead of only via my computer, where I also like them very much.

  7. Yes, the essay was my after-supper treat last night! I hope you have a great time at your first SCBWI event! It can be daunting that first time, but I hope you take deep breaths and see some friendly faces. We’ll be thinking of you.

  8. I’ll promise to write more poetry as long as I’m also allowed to lose some, too!

  9. Tracy, my husband is with you. He thinks “pat, pat, pat” makes a pretty good poem.

  10. I think being allowed to lose many lines is always a good policy. And my husband recently bought me a packet of monkey head erasers which will get a good workout.
    It was brave of our wonderful ambassador to have read those words from her pre-published past!

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