• Happy birthday Helen Griffith (Grandaddy and Janetta Together).
  • It’s the birth date of Juliette Gordon Low (1860–1927) founder of the Girl Scouts of America.
  • Practice your tricks and read about magicians and illusionists on National Magic Day, created in honor of the great Harry Houdini who died on this day in 1926. Read Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman.
  • It’s UNICEF Day, a tradition started in 1950 to raise money for medicine, clean water, food, education, and emergency relief to children in over 150 countries. UNICEF stands for United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

Unless you are living under a rock, you know today is Halloween. Either for nutritional or theological reasons, Halloween has not been as appreciated in recent years as when I was a child. But I think there is a better holiday to celebrate on October 31. In fact, I am sorry that it is not a national holiday. For today is the birthday of our National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature,Katherine Paterson.

Born in China in 1932 to missionary parents, Katherine moved frequently in her early years and eventually became a missionary herself in Japan. This unique background provided the subject matter for her first children’s book, The Sign of the Chrysanthemum, published in 1973. By 1975 Katherine had won the National Book Award for The Master Puppeteer, and in 1977 she won the Newbery Award for Bridge to Terabithia. Not bad for her first few years as a fledgling children’s book writer! In 1978 The Great Gilly Hopkins appeared, containing one of the most original characters in children’s books.

Over the next thirty years, Katherine continued to grow as writer, making each book distinct and individual. She won a second Newbery Award in 1981 for Jacob Have I Loved, but even more significantly she brought quality, consistency, and emotional intensity to everything she wrote. Clearly one of the most significant children’s book writers of the twentieth century, she continues to craft quality books that change the way her readers look at their world.

All this has been only part of her contribution. An ambassador for children’s books long before she was given the title, Katherine has received the Hans Christian Anderson Award for the body of her work, and traveled throughout the country and the world on behalf of books for children. She speaks out against censorship; she and her husband, John, support more children’s book projects and events than can be catalogued. And she does all of this with unfailing grace and style.

So happy seventy-eighth birthday, dear National Ambassador! On behalf of all your legions of fans, we are so glad that almost four decades ago you decided to write for children. Thank you. We love you for who you are—and for the stories you have given us.

Here’s a passage from The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators:As much as we adults wish to spare children pain and so try to pretend to ourselves that they cannot feel as deeply as we, they do hurt; they do fear; they do grieve. We who care for them must take these feelings seriously.
Why do I write for children? Because I’m practicing. Someday if I keep working at my craft, I may write a book worthy of a child—I may write a book worthy of the readers who have come to my books.

—Katherine Paterson

Originally posted October 31, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Newbery


  1. Anita this is a wonderful idea–our own children’s book almanac. I can’t wait to see what else you have in store for us.

  2. Kathi Appelt says:

    Anita–thank you for this wonderful blog! And thank you for including this book in particular. As a writer, I’ve turned to it time after time, as a human I’ve turned to it even more.

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Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

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