Katherine Womeldorf Paterson

Katherine Paterson
Katherine Paterson

Time Period

1940 to Today

Subject Categories

Education, Religion, Writers

Notable Facts

Renowned author of such books as "Bridge to Terebithia," "Jacob Have I Loved," and "The Great Gilly Hopkins." Born in China, a child of Christian missionaries and eventually served herself as a Presbyterian missionary in Japan for four years before turning first to teaching and then eventually to writing, her true passion.

Personal Information

Date of Birth


Primary Residence




Historical Significance

Katherine Womeldorf Paterson was born on October 31, 1932 in Jiangsu Province of China to Southern Presbyterian missionary parents, George and Mary Womeldorf. Her father ran a school for boys in China, so Paterson learned to speak Chinese before English. After war broke out between China and Japan in 1937, the family moved to Shanghai. By the time Paterson was eighteen, she had moved eighteen times. The war forced the family to return to the United States, where they lived in Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia before settling in Winchester, Virginia. She attended King College in Bristol, Tennessee where she majored in English. After graduation, she taught school for one year before going on to graduate school. She spent two years at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia and decided that she wanted to be a missionary. She wanted to go to China, but it was closed to Americans at that time, so she went to Japan. Paterson was a missionary there for four years and did postgraduate work at the Naganuma School of Japanese Language. She planned to stay in Japan for the rest of her life, but then received a scholarship to study Christian Education at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. While there, she met and married John Barstow Paterson, a Presbyterian pastor from Buffalo, NY.

For a while, Paterson substitute taught, but then got a position teaching English and Sacred Studies at the Pennington School for Boys near Princeton, NJ. Her son, John Jr. was born in 1964, and daughter Elizabeth Po Li (b. 1962) joined the family from Hong Kong in 1964 as well. David Lord was born in 1966 and Mary Katherine Nah-he-sah-pe-che-a joined the family from an Apache reservation in Arizona shortly after. In 1964, Pateson was asked to write some curriculum materials for the Presbyterian Church and became "hooked on writing." She began writing the fiction that she had loved as a child, and, while doing this, the family moved to Norfolk, Virginia (1977) and finally Barre, Vermont (1986).

Paterson has written fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults and also essays for adults on reading and writing books for children. Her most famous novels include: "Bridge to Terabithia," which was made into a motion picture in 2006, "Jacob Have I Loved," "The Great Gilly Hopkins," "The Master Puppeteer," "Flip-Flop Girl," "Come Sing Jimmy Jo," "Of Nightingales that Weep," "Park's Quest," "Preacher's Boy," "The Same Stuff as Stars," "Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom," and "Sign of the Chrysanthemum." Two of her books, "Lyddie," and "Jip: His Story," are set in Vermont. She has been awarded the Newbery Medal, the National Book Award for Children's Literature, the Hans Christian Anderson medal in 1998 and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Literature in 2006. In 2005, the Burlington Literary Festival was dedicated to her. Because of the Hans Christian Anderson medal, Paterson was given $13,000 to give to a group of her choice. She chose the Read to Live project. In addition to numerous other awards, Paterson has also received multiple honorary degrees from institutions such as: the University of Maryland, Norwich University, St. Michael's College, and Washington and Lee University in Virginia.

Organizations or Movements

  • Presbyterian Church
  • Newbery Medal
  • National Book Award for Children's Literature
  • Hans Christian Anderson Medal
  • Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Literature
  • Read to Live project


  • Teacher
  • Presbyterian Missionary in Japan
  • Substitute Teacher
  • English and Sacred Studies teacher at the Pennington School for Boys near Princeton, NJ
  • Author


  • King College in Bristol, Tennessee
  • Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia
  • Naganuma School of Japanese Language
  • Union Theological Seminary

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • Official Site Link

  • Scholastic Biography Link

  • Video Interview Link

  • Read to Live Link

Additional Images

Katherine Paterson
Katherine Paterson