Stories of My Life

Stories of My Life

by Katherine Paterson


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From her childhood in China to the moment she won her first National Book Award, literary icon Katherine Paterson shares the personal stories that inspired her children’s books.

Told with her trademark humor and heart, Paterson’s life stories tell tales from her childhood growing up with missionaries, to living as a single woman in Japan, to raising four children in suburban Maryland with her minister husband. Read about the origins of some of her most beloved characters, go behind the scenes to the moments Katherine found out she won her many awards, and more. Filled with personal photos and letters, this is funny, heartwarming history from a legendary name in the field of children’s books.

* “What absolutely shines through is Paterson’s warm, self-effacing humor, and extraordinary humility. . . . Like Mark Twain, to whom she is distantly related, Paterson is a true American treasure.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Honest, flecked with good humor, and heartrending.”—The Horn Book
“A gift for Paterson fans.”—Booklist

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780147509185
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/06/2015
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 802,259
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Lexile: 1080L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Katherine Paterson is a legendary children's book author whose career has garnered many awards, including two Newbery Medals and two National Book Awards. She is currently Vice President of the National Children's Book and Literarcy Alliance, and live in Barre, Vermont. She has four children and seven grandchildren.

Read an Excerpt


My daughter Lin was very ill when she was pregnant with her first child, and I went to try to help out. It was hard to know how to take care of her. She could keep virtually nothing in her stomach and most of the time simply lay in a dark room feeling miserable. I soon ran out of topics for conversation, until one day I remembered a story my mother had told me, so I said: “Surely I told you about the time . . .” But I hadn’t. She’d never heard the story I’d grown up knowing. I couldn’t believe I’d never told it to her, just as my mother had told it to me. And then I realized what had happened. I heard most of those stories at the kitchen sink while Mother was washing and my sister Liz and I were drying and putting away the dishes. For most of my children’s lives, we’d had a dishwasher.

I resolved then that I would write down the kitchen sink stories of my family, and write about my own life for my children and grandchildren and the several friends who thought I should write more about my childhood. But as I wrote and people began to read it, I added more and more. The thing just got out of hand and grew, not into a proper memoir, but beyond the simple collection of stories I’d first intended. Since writing a memoir has become all the rage, I found I could hardly give a talk without someone asking when I was going to write my memoirs. Well, call it ego or whatever you like, I decided if I was going to write the stories for my family and friends, I might just as well make them into a proper book with a proper editor and publisher instead of just doing them privately. I am a writer, after all, and I do love to tell stories—the bigger the audience, the better.

I’ve filled out details in the anecdotal tales about my parents with letters and brief memoirs that my parents wrote down when they were the age I am now. I’d taken a tape recorder to their house and asked them to talk their remembrances into it, but they were put off by the technology and decided instead to write them down for us five children. My father’s time in the Washington and Lee Ambulance Corps was augmented by the memoirs of a fellow driver, William Roth.

My mother’s mother had saved her letters from China, but they were less than satisfying. Much of the writing was intent on not worrying her mother when, in truth, her life in China was filled with many anxious times. After my father died, I remarked to his surviving sisters that it was a pity he had written so few letters, as I guessed his might have told more about our lives there. “What do you mean?” one of my old aunts asked. “He wrote Mama every week.”

“I don’t guess you still have those letters,” I said, not daring to hope.

She looked at me with disgust. “Well, we wouldn’t have thrown them away.” A few weeks later they came to my house in an old cardboard box—not every letter he wrote, I feel sure, but many more than I could have ever hoped for, starting with a few from his time in the army through the years 1923–1940, which were spent in China.

The longest story in the book is not exactly a family story, though the germ of it was told to me both by my parents and Maud Henderson herself. My friend and fellow writer Kate DiCamillo heard the short version and told me that if I didn’t write about Maud, she would, which drove me to research Maud’s life. To my surprised delight, I discovered that her letters from China to her half sister and a few others had been given to the library at the University of North Carolina. There were also records and letters in the historical archives of the Episcopal Church and references to Maud in the memoirs of Marian Craighill, the wife of an Episcopal bishop in China.

I am indebted to all these sources, but especially to my mother, who told me stories at the kitchen sink.
Question #1: How did you become a writer?

When I’m asked this question, I usually ask the questioner if he would like to hear my first published work. If he looks at all interested I proceed to recite:

Pat, pat, pat.

There is the rat.

Where is the cat?

Pat, pat, pat.

This piece appeared in the Shanghai American School newspaper in the fall of 1939. Right beside it was a letter from my teacher, Miss Essie Shields, that began: “The second graders’ work is not up to our usual standards this week . . .” ensuring that my first published work would be forever linked to my first critical review.

Hardly anything has survived of my childhood writing. I can’t remember that there was very much to begin with. I was a reader, not a writer. I do have one letter that I wrote the same year as “Pat Pat Pat.” My parents went to China as Presbyterian missionaries in 1923. The war between China and Japan began in 1937, and in 1939 my mother and we five children spent the year in Shanghai, while my father went back to our hometown of Huai’an, which was under Japanese occupation. The trip was determined to be too dangerous for family travel, as it required the crossing and re-crossing of battle lines and bandit country. Even though we were never sure that mail would get through when he was “up country,” we would write to him. Once, trying to be very grown-up, I thought I’d imitate the way my mother often closed her letters, which was “Lovingly, Mary.” My older brother and sister saw my letter and hooted. Not ever having been a strong speller, I’d signed it: “Lovely, Katherine,” a misspelling I was often reminded of through the years. But somehow, despite the chaotic times, my letter reached my father and, amazing as it seems to me, he kept it. When I found it and reread it years later, I was pleased to see that although at school I was imitating my hated Dick and Jane primers, when I wrote to my father, whose love I trusted, I could write pretty well for a second grader.

The truth is that, even though I was a very early reader (which made me hate the school texts, which bore no resemblance in my mind to real books), no one thought I had the makings of a writer, including me. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be a missionary or a movie star when I grew up.

My writing life almost didn’t happen. During my last year at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia, one of my favorite professors stopped me in the hall and said she’d just been reading my exam and it made her wonder if I’d ever thought of becoming a writer. Now, I, the lifelong reader, the summa cum laude graduate in English literature, knew what great writing was, so how could Dr. Little imagine, on the basis of an essay on an exam, that I should be a writer? “No,” I said primly, I had no intention of being a writer because “I wouldn’t want to add another mediocre writer to the world.”

“Maybe,” Dr. Little said, “that’s what God is calling you to be.”

It was hard for me to imagine that God needed a lot more mediocre writers in the world, so I didn’t become a writer or a movie star, I became a missionary. It took me a long time to understand what Sara Little was really saying, and it was this: There are no guarantees of success, much less of quality. If you don’t dare to be a mediocre writer, you’ll never be a writer at all.

In the end, it was Sara Little who set me firmly on the journey. She recommended me for the scholarship at Union Seminary, where I met John Paterson, a young Presbyterian pastor from Buffalo, New York. I married him the following summer, and didn’t return to my life as a missionary. So then she suggested to the Board of Christian Education that I be asked to write a book on the Christian faith for fifth and sixth graders.

I began to write Who Am I? at about the time our first son, John Jr., was born, and it was published in 1966 after Lin had arrived and David was born. I realized that I loved to write and that I wasn’t going back to teaching with three tiny ones around, so I began to write in earnest. I needed something in those days that wasn’t, by the end of the day, eaten up, torn up, or dirtied up. I needed something to keep my mind from turning into mush. And so I began to write in what snatches of time I could find when all three children were safely asleep and my minister husband was off visiting the sick and comforting the dying. My desk was the dining room table that had to be cleaned off before we could use it for any other purpose. That I didn’t always perform this task in time is proven by childish scribblings on pages of the first draft of The Sign of the Chrysanthemum.

I didn’t start with a novel. I didn’t know where to start. I tried poetry, essays, short stories, none of which anyone wanted to buy. A woman in the Takoma Park church knew I was trying to write. She asked if I’d like to go with her to a writing coursebeing offered through the county adult education program. I was thrilled with the idea. Mom’s night out! We took the general writing course and then, when a course in writing for children was offered, we took that as well.

I got two valuable lessons from those courses. The first was that to be a writer you have to write. I have always been a student who does her homework, and I was embarrassed to go to a weekly class unprepared. So I was writing, sometimes in five-minute snatches of time, but writing something almost every day. Even after I no longer had the framework of the class, I knew that I needed to keep working in a disciplined fashion or I’d never finish anything. The second lesson I learned seems to contradict the first—it is that I did not again want to be a part of a writing group. I don’t like to share early drafts for several people to read and comment on. Other writers I know and admire swear by their writers’ groups, but I learned fairly early on that I am not that kind of writer. I’m a very private person. I need to do my work with no one reading over my shoulder or a group of people discussing it, even a supportive group.

Seven years elapsed between the publication of Who Am I? and the publication of The Sign of the Chrysanthemum—seven years during which I was writing regularly and trying to sell what I had written. I sold one short story to a tiny magazine that ceased publication the month after it printed my story. I also sold one poem, but the magazine that paid ten dollars for it died before the poem was ever published.

I decided that since I was writing a story or a poem almost every week I would try to write, instead, a chapter every week, so that by the end of the year, I’d have a book, and even if no one ever published it, it would be something substantial that I had accomplished.

Question #2: Where do you get your ideas?

Some of my writer friends have so many ideas, they’ll never live long enough to turn them all into books. I look at them with a certain envy, for when I finish a book I say, “Well, that was a great career while it lasted,” because I am sure I’ll never have an idea worthy of another book. But by now I’ve written a lot of books, so I must have gotten those ideas from somewhere, and that somewhere is most often from my own life. Another lesson I’ve learned along the way is that there are no truly original ideas. There are no truly original plots. As the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes said three thousand or so years ago: “There is no new thing under the sun.” Except you. Except me. Every individual is new and unique, so we may be stuck with the same old plots, but because a new person is telling the story, bringing his or her singular life to bear on the story, it is fresh and new. So the only excuse I have for daring to write is that no one else in the world would be able to tell the stories that only I can tell. And an aside to those of you wishing to write—that is your excuse as well. The raw material for our unique stories is our unique lives and perspective on life.

I have a note card that has lived for years in my desk drawer. The card has three panel illustrations. At the top lies a zonked- out whale with X’s where its eyes should be. Below is the same beached whale with its eyes popped wide open in amazement as a voice coming from its mouth declares: “Incredible as it seems—” The sentence is completed by a person emerging from between the jaws of the beast: “—my life is based on a true story.” This book contains true stories of my life that I want to share with people I care about, a lot of whom are readers of my books. Sometimes a reader, often a friend, when hearing me tell an old story, will recognize in the story the seed of one of my books that I myself hadn’t realized. That’s one of the great things about having readers. They often know more than the writer.

This book is not a memoir. I swore never to write one. My memory is not good enough to turn these stories into a coherent narrative. Besides, I can’t believe the people I love would want to be minor characters in the story of my life. I’ve gotten permission from my husband and children to tell tales on them, but I’m hesitant to impose on others. So there will be many important people in my life that will not appear as characters in these stories. You know who you are. If you’re relieved, good; if you’re disappointed, I apologize.

Question #3: “How does it feel to be famous?”

The questioner is young and earnest and has just confided that although she doesn’t know what she wants to be, she knows she wants to be famous. I don’t really know how to answer her question. How does it feel to be famous?

And then I remember things that happened after Bridge to Terabithia won the Newbery Medal. I would be invited somewhere to speak and there would be a lovely dinner at which I was the honored guest. The people on either side of me at the table would say something gracious and congratulatory and then they would turn to the person on the other side and never speak to me again for the whole meal. There were a few times when the person in charge made it clear that she’d hired me for the weekend and expected to get her money’s worth, by gum.

I’d come home and whine to my long-suffering husband. “I’m a human being,” I’d say, “why can’t they just treat me like a human being.”

And then I remembered Anita. When I was in Chandler Junior High in Richmond, Virginia, all of us new kids were put in the same homeroom. It was a wonderful thing because we could make friends with each other, we didn’t have to try to cope with already cemented cliques that populated the rest of the school. I made several good friends that year, but there was one new girl that we were all shy around. The reason we were shy around Anita was because she was famous. She was the youngest member of the Carter sisters. Her mother, Maybelle, had been part of the legendary country music group the Carter Family. Her older sister June went on to marry Johnny Cash. At the time, her mother, two older sisters, and Anita sang regularly on the radio, and in concerts all over the South. We didn’t make friends with her because we didn’t know what to say to someone we considered famous.

Because she had moved around the country a lot, Anita needed catching up in a couple of subjects and for some reason I was asked to tutor her. To my amazement she was so shy that even one on one, she barely spoke above a whisper. Yet that summer I went to a concert at the stadium, and on stage, Anita was transformed. The huge crowd loved her and she obviously loved performing for them.

“If it is hard for me at forty-five to deal with the little bit of fame that I have, how must it have been for Anita?” I wondered. So I wroteCome Sing, Jimmy Jo about James, a shy boy who becomes a star. If you want to know what Katherine Paterson is really like, you should read that book. Like James, and perhaps Anita, I’m a shy show-off—a very private person who loves to perform.

When my friend Nancy Graff read this section on feeling famous she said, “Oh, c’mon, Katherine, you know you get a kick out of being famous.” We both laughed. I mean, I was thrilled to be introduced to the empress of Japan and hear her say, “Katherine Paterson? Who wrote Bridge to Terabithia?” Sometimes I can’t believe my own life. I find myself standing on a stage or sitting at a table with writers I have known and admired for many years—really famous people—and think: “This is me here with these amazing people.” I want to give myself the proverbial pinch to make sure I’m awake.

But that doesn’t mean I feel famous. Famous is not an emotion like love or hate or jealousy or fear—feelings with which I am well acquainted. You can’t feel it, but you can learn over the years to sit back and enjoy the perks.

Autographing grandson Decker Paterson’s book at the Library of Congress ceremony 2010.

When The Master Puppeteer won the National Book Award in 1977, all my friends in the Washington area rejoiced with me. The following year, Bridge to Terabithia won the Newbery Medal and they threw another big party. Fortunately, I moved in 1979 and they didn’t have to give me yet another party when The Great Gilly Hopkins won the National Book Award and was the Newbery Honor book. By this time I was afraid I wouldn’t have a single writer friend left. I was Biblical Job in reverse: “Why me, God? Why me?” And the answer seemed to be: Now people will listen to what you say, so you’d better say something worth listening to. When Jacob Have I Lovedwon a Newbery two years later, I tried to remember that. I also learned that my friends were among the most gracious people in the world.

My special friend in Takoma Park, Maryland, was Gene Namovicz. Gene was an established writer when I first met her, but not long after we became friends, my second novel was published, then the next four that all won national prizes. Gene stood by me in my triumphs, just as she would through my troubles, and always with a wonderful sense of humor.

Soon after the first Newbery, I was scheduled to give a speech that I knew had to be a good one, since it seemed to me that almost every important writer and critic on both sides of the Atlantic was going to be in the audience. We were on vacation at Lake George, so I sent the speech to Gene for her comments and revised accordingly. But I was still anxious. I called her and told her she’d just have to pray for me, as I was afraid I was going to fall apart. Gene, a devout Roman Catholic, promised she’d pray, but told me to calm down. It would be fine, and it was. I called her to tell her it had gone all right and thanked her for her prayers.

“If I’d known how efficacious Roman Catholic prayers were,” I said, jokingly, “I might have converted long ago.”

“Well, I did pray,” she said, “and He said, ‘Katherine who?’”

When I moved to Vermont, Gene got in touch with Grace Greene, a friend I had made soon after moving, and told her that as long as I was in Maryland and even in Virginia, she had been able to keep me humble, but Vermont was just too far away, so she was turning the job over to Grace. I wondered if Grace had taken her assignment too much to heart when she told me this story. A small group of us gather periodically to do pastel painting and the night of January 5, 2010, I was missing. Grace had gotten an invitation, so she knew that I was in Washington being presented as the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, but when the others asked where I was, Grace said: “She’s in Washington being made a national embarrassment.” When she realized what she had said, she tried to correct herself. “Oh, no, I mean natural embarrassment.” Gene would have loved that very Freudian slip.

Since real friends like mine are more precious than awards, I know I am truly blessed, and gratitude, unlike fame, is something you can actually feel.

Anne and baby Mary Goetchius.
When I’m asked about censorship, I recall that my parents, conservative Presbyterian missionaries, never censored what we children read. In fact, when I was eleven or twelve, Mother would hand me the book-of-the-month selection that she’d failed to return before the deadline and ask me to read it to see if it was worth her time. When I was eleven, she gave me a copy of The Yearling, a Pulitzer Prize–winning book she had read. She knew it contained profane language and “inappropriate content,” but she gave it to me because she knew I would love it. I did love it. Reading it as an adult I see how much that book has influenced me as a writer.

Mother was a big fan of my books and promoted them to the extent that I wondered after she died, who was going to buy them now that she was gone. When I got word that The Great Gilly Hopkins was the Newbery Honor book (that year for some mysterious reason there was only one), I was told that I couldn’t tell anyone until after the official press conference. I decided that one’s dying mother didn’t count as telling and called her at once. She could barely speak by then, but when I told her the news, she asked in the playful voice I knew so well: “That naughty child?”

Mother was born in Waco, Texas, but that didn’t make her a Texan. She always said that her father left Georgia and took his family to Texas to seek his fortune, but all he found was her, so they all went back to Georgia. They settled in Rome, where her father’s older brother George was pastor of a Presbyterian church. She was named Mary and was the middle of her parents’ three girls. Anne, the oldest, was an artist who ironically always suffered from poor eyesight. Helen, the youngest, was a bit of a rebel who often caused their straight-laced mother anxiety. But my mother was, it appears, the “good child.” Grandmother referred to her as “my little missionary,” pointing her at an early age toward service as a “foreign missionary.” In addition to the two eldest brothers who died in the Civil War, her father had two other older brothers—George, the minister, who was elected for a term as Moderator of the General Assembly of the (then) Southern Presbyterian Church—and Henry, a prosperous lawyer, who, being childless, wanted to adopt my mother. Henry never quite forgave my grandfather for not giving up one of his daughters (after all, he had a surplus) and at length adopted a son who inherited his entire estate.

Mother never minded being the daughter of a respectable, but certainly not wealthy, insurance and real estate salesman. As a child I often begged for stories of the “olden days,” when she was young. (My own children, referring to my youth, would say: “Back when you were alive, Mom . . .”—protests that I was still alive notwithstanding.) Mother always spoke with delight about growing up on Third Avenue in Rome, Georgia. Everyone seemed to live across the street from the Goetchius family. There was Uncle George and after his death in 1900, the new Presbyterian pastor, Dr. Sydnor, and his family with children roughly the same age as the Goetchius girls. Woodrow Wilson’s first wife grew up there, and Mother remembered her father, an elder in the Presbyterian church, acting as a pall bearer when Mrs. Wilson was brought back to Rome to be buried. There was, supposedly, a thank-you note from the president that never surfaced—much like the many Abraham Lincoln letters floating around that lived on in some family’s legend but not in its archives.

I was most envious of the neighborhood group of eight or nine girls just her age. Mother was an active member of the Third Avenue Gang, who had “spend-the-night parties,” progressive dinners, went to baseball games; in short, did everything together. One of the girls had a dollhouse in her backyard that became the gang’s clubhouse and the center of their activities until well up into their teens. When she talked about her childhood friends I was always envious. The idea of living in the same house for all your childhood and having the same knot of devoted friends seemed magical to me, who had lived in thirteen different places by the time I was thirteen. Years later, she went back to Rome for a reunion of the Third Avenue Gang, one of whom had married an heir of one of the early Hawaiian missionary families and another whose son wrote racy novels that had Rome in a twitter.

Summers as children we would go to the farm in Virginia where our spinster aunts and bachelor uncles were strict maintainers of good behavior, but the Goetchius girls would go to Eufala, Alabama, to visit their beloved aunt Anne or aunt Annie, as they called her. (I grew up thinking her name was “Aunt Tanny.”) She was Grandmother’s older and only sibling. As children, one of our witticisms was “Eufala? I picka you up.” Annie lived on a farm and produced six children and a brood of descendents, most of whom my generation never met. The exception was Cousin Wade Herren, known in the family as “Apple,” since it was accepted that he was the “apple of his mother’s eye.” Wade became a general during World War II, and we met him when he was stationed in Washington sometime after the war. He told us proudly, not of his exploits during the war, but of how honored he was to be the military escort for Princess Elizabeth on her official visit to Washington not too long before she became the Queen of England. “Beautiful manners. Just like a lovely young Southern girl,” he enthused.

The Goetchius girls loved the farm with their many cousins and all the African American field and house help there. On the Herren farm the children could run barefoot and take the pony cart out to the field and fill it with watermelons, hoping, perhaps encouraging, one to roll off and burst so that they could sit down and eat it in the middle of the path.

My grandmother Elizabeth Gertrude Daniel Goetchius was known as “Trudy” when she was a child, a playful nickname that seemed totally unlikely to me, who only knew her as a forbidding figure. I always called her “Grandmother Goetchius” or at least “Grandmother,” never Granny or Grandma or Nana or any of the diminutives by which my friends spoke fondly of their grandmothers.

I never knew my grandfather Charlie Goetchius, and it is one of the sorrows of my life. In his picture—I’ve only seen one—he’s a man I know I would have loved. He had red hair and a bushy mustache to match. I think I can see a mischievous light in his eyes, even in a formal photograph. Aunt Helen told me that she was “his girl,” and I believed her because I imagined he would have admired, not feared, that rebellious streak in his youngest daughter. An adventurous man of sorts, he was one of the first people in Rome to buy an automobile. Since Anne’s eyesight was poor, and Helen was too young, he decided to teach his daughter Mary how to drive. The lessons ceased abruptly when Mother drove his new Ford through the plate glass window of the local drugstore. Though only the window and the auto suffered damage, she didn’t take up driving again until she was in her fifties, when she and I took driving lessons from the same instructor after my father had given up on both of us. Ironically, it was Anne who soon afterward became an expert driver and was the first young woman in North Georgia to drive in parades and funerals.

Just before Anne was set to go to college, a relative came to be president of Shorter College, a half-hour walk from their Third Avenue home. After graduating, Anne went off to art school in Boston. Mother was barely sixteen when she entered Shorter, where she studied biology, having decided that she wanted to be a doctor. Doctors were badly needed in China, which she seemed to have decided early on would be the place to spend her life. Then during her senior year she was summoned out of class and told that her father was dead, felled by a massive heart attack for which there had been no warning.

Not only had she lost her father, she had lost any hope of becoming a doctor. There was no money for medical school and besides, how could she leave her mother at such a time? The solution was to find a teaching position in the area. Helen was still at home, so she taught that first year in Clinton, South Carolina, but when Helen left to go to nursing school, she returned to Rome to be with her mother.

By then America was at war. Along with several of her friends, Mary worked in the Red Cross/YMCA canteen. Dressed in blue uniforms with white veils, the girls were on the platform when troop trains came through. Summer was particularly exciting because the nearby orchards would send bushels of peaches to the station. The girls stood beside each car with a bushel of peaches to hand them out when the train stopped. Mother described the “whoop of the men, mostly from the north, when they piled off the cars and saw us canteen girls presiding over the peaches. It was especially fun at night when we had flares.”

Three of the girls, including Mary, loved the canteen work, and applied for an assignment overseas. They were only twenty-three and the minimum age was twenty-five, but the New York interviewer said there was a bill before Congress to lower the age, and when it passed, she would put their names at the top of the list. When the Armistice was signed in November Mother confessed to a tinge of disappointment in the midst of the rejoicing. She would not be going to France after all.

Several weeks later a wire came asking if she would be interested in an overseas assignment. Canteen workers were still needed, as the army would be in Europe for some time.

Once when we were children we were playing either Old Maids or Flinch, and I realized Mother was shuffling and bridging the deck like a riverboat gambler I’d seen in a movie. “Where did you learn how to do that?” I asked. She visibly blushed and confessed that on the boat taking her to France in 1918, she had learned to play bridge and dance—two activities her own mother would certainly have frowned on. But the chaplain in charge of the volunteers said that they would be needed skills when they arrived in France to entertain the troops.

When I was an adolescent, Mother told me about the chaplain, a kind man that all the young women liked and admired. Then one night after the dancing lesson he asked Mary to come down to his cabin for some forgotten purpose. “I was so naïve—he was the chaplain, after all—so I went. I had no idea . . .” Once there, the chaplain closed the door and threw his arms around her. Alarmed, she jammed the heel of her pump into his foot. He let go with a howl and she fled. The incident was never spoken of again until she had daughters of her own. I can remember at about thirteen staring wide-eyed at my proper mother when she thought it time to tell me this cautionary tale. I never had to utilize the heel-of-the-shoe trick myself, but I think Mother would be gratified to see that I passed it on to Lyddie Worthen for her use against her lecherous floor boss at the Lowell mill in my novel Lyddie.

Mother remembered her time in France as fun. The war was over and the troops were mostly on vacation. I can only assume she put her card-playing and dancing skills to use and had no more occasions on which to employ her foot-stabbing technique.


Excerpted from "Stories of My Life"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Katherine Paterson.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

A Few Words from Kate DiCamillo vii

My Friend Katherine Nancy Price Graff ix

Introduction xiii

Three Frequently Asked Questions 3

Mary Elizabeth Goetchius 15

George Raymond Womeldorf 27

Over There 38

In Hospitals 47

The Courtship and Wedding 53

Early Days in China 61

At Home in Huai'an 72

Enemy at the Gate 84

Refugees 87

My Father the Drug Smuggler 94

The Last Year in China 103

At Home in an Alien Land 112

Grandmother Goetchius 125

Two Brass Buttons 134

Maud Truxton Henderson 137

The Teaching Life 158

Japan Days 171

Another Courtship 189

Motherhood 197

Motherhood (Less than Ideal) 214

Pets 224

Motherhood As Inspiration 238

Dedications and Other Miscellanea 258

Awards, Etc. 263

Final Gifts 283

Who Went Where When 293

My Family Tree 301

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"What absolutely shines through is Paterson’s warm, self-effacing humor, and the extraordinary humility of a writer who has won two National Book Awards, two Newbery Medals, and the Hans Christian Andersen Medal. Like Mark Twain, to whom she is distantly related, Paterson is a true American treasure." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

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