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Reading Aloud with Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia author talks about developing a lifelong love of literature in children


Katherine Paterson, the Newbery Medal-winning author of The Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, recently was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a role that allows her to promote one of her personal loves – the art of reading aloud. Not long ago, she shared with NEA Today a few tips and thoughts: “You can’t start too early and you shouldn’t stop!”

On getting started: Don’t read aloud something you don’t like. I read aloud to my children all the time and I said, ‘I’ll read anything you want me to – once! – but if it gives me the screechies, you’ll have to read it yourself!’

Those first books: When my oldest granddaughter was just a teeny-tiny baby baby, I sat her on my lap and read a book of children’s rhymes,to her and she just listened and looked at me, loving the music of this language. Poetry is a great start – and then there are so many wonderful books for very little children. I can remember Ezra Jack Keats’ Whistles for Willie – oh, the triumph when that whistle comes out!

As they get older, you read a chapter a night – if you can stand to stop! E.B. White (of Charlotte’s Web) is the master. I remember my 6-year-old calling out, ‘Don’t cry, Mom! You ruin it when you cry!’ and I just had to hand it over to him to finish because I just couldn’t not cry!

Paterson participated in NEA’s Read Across America, an annual reading event that calls for every child in the community to celebrate reading on March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss.

Paterson also spoke at the NEA-sponsored 2010 Celebration of Teaching and Learning in March.

On Harry Potter and books on tape: One of the nicest things about the Harry Potter craze was that families read together. But honey, playing a tape for your kid is not the same. It leaves out the whole human element! The caring is as important as the words themselves, knowing that you’re loved and having a little treat.

On reading books aloud: I love it when families read books together – Bridge to Terabithia, Tuck Everlasting – some of them are tough, but you can talk about difficult experiences together.

On doing “voices”: I do voices when I read my own books because I know how they sound! You don’t have to do that. It doesn’t have to be a theatrical performance. In a way, when you don’t, it lets the listener imagine more.

When it stops: I think (parents) think, ‘Oh she can read for herself now – and she should!’ Or, and this also troubles me, that the child can read to you instead. That makes it a test! ... I think it's sad when it stops.


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The story behind Bridge to Terabithia

The story behind Bridge to Terabithia
The award-winning young adult novel was inspired by a loss suffered by author Katherine Paterson’s son.


Why you should read aloud, explains author

Why you should read aloud, explains author
Newbery-award winning author Katherine Paterson explains how reading aloud can affect a child.