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Children’s author Katherine Paterson receives honorary degree

Katherine Paterson, one of the most celebrated children’s authors in the world, received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Vermont College of Fine Arts on Thursday.

National Book Award winner M.T. Anderson and Horn Book editor Roger Sutton were among the 250 people who gathered on a frigid night in Montpelier to see Paterson, 82, honored by the college she has supported since its founding.

Mary Quattlebaum, a VCFA faculty member who regularly reviews children’s books for The Post, said,  “Katherine read, in her warm, inimitable voice, from her novels ‘Come Sing, Jimmy Jo’ and ‘The Great Gilly Hopkins.’ There was scarcely a dry eye in the full College Hall chapel — I know I was crying! — as she read from the ending of ‘Bridge to Terabithia.'”

In his introductory remarks, VCFA President Thomas Christopher Greene confessed that he was nervous when he first approached Paterson to ask her to help get the college started. “But I realized the flip side of being a great writer is also being a great listener, and Katherine listened to me and said, ‘I’m in.’ I have never met anyone like Katherine who is both extremely generous by writing stories that will survive all our life times, but also someone who has given their life to service to her community.”

Greene said that in 2006 when Paterson won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize for children’s literature, she didn’t want to accept it because federal taxes on the award would go to support the Iraq war. “So,” Greene said, “she set up a foundation to give all the money away to support children’s literacy around the world. This is the kind of person she is.”

Paterson has served on the school’s board of trustees since 2006. Over her long career, she has won two Newbery Medals and two National Book Awards. From 2010-11, she was the Library of Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

She is the second author to receive an honorary doctorate from VCFA. The first was given to poet Jean Valentine.