GATES OF EXCELLENCE by Katherine Paterson


On Reading And Writing Books For Children
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Several of Paterson's Washington Post Book World reviews, articles from The Writer, her award acceptance speeches, and some original chapters on her own writing and her thoughts on writing for young people--collected here, she says, for her adult readers, "not all [of them] librarians or teachers," just people who "have learned. . . truly how to read." Whoever these adults might be, they may well be interested in her revelation that she was a "weird little kid" (more accurately, a timid, uncertain outsider) and now writes for other weird little kids, and in her account of how she conceived and planned and progressed with some of her stories. (The Master Puppeteer began with a vivid dream.) However, readers seeking an award-winner's insights into the special nature of children's literature will find, as Paterson's title might indicate, only the usual solemn banalities: Children's literature is true art, not moral instruction; a sense of wonder is the greatest gift we can give our children; words are very precious; we must help non-readers to recognize that books are "friends who will enrich and broaden and give joy to their lives"; and we must give our children not slogans and platitudes (these apparently she reserves for adults), but "the life and growth and refreshment that only the full richness of our language can give." As for adult literature, "Fiction allows us to enter fully into the lives of other human beings"; "a season with Natasha and AndrÉ and Pierre may make us wiser and more compassionate people" (a dubious proposition); and, à propos of Agatha Christie, "we care desperately" who killed Roger Ackroyd. As for her own, "I cannot, will not, withhold from my young readers the harsh realities. . . but neither will I neglect to plant that stubborn seed of hope. . . ." (Besides hope, she lists plot, brevity, absence of "symphonic" complexity, and characters readers can care for as requirements setting "boundaries"--not limits--on juvenile fiction.) No doubt the separate items gathered here well served their original occasions. Reading them in one lump tends to clot one's consciousness.
Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1981
ISBN: 0140362258
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Elsevier/Nelson
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1981


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