Katherine Paterson recently published “Birdie’s Bargain” through Candlewick Press, which has been awarded a Newbery Medal winner and National Book Award recipient.
A news release said the book is “a poignant and unflinching new realistic novel. Readers of all faiths and backgrounds, especially children of military families, will identify with and root for the unforgettable Birdie, given inimitable voice by a master storyteller.”
Paterson, who has written more than 30 novels including the best-selling “Bridge to Terabithia” and “My Brigadista Year,” is a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award.
The Montpelier, Vt., resident is also a recipient of the Hans Christian Anderson Award, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, she lives in Montpelier, Vt.
The 240-page book, which is for readers aged 9 to 12, retails for $17.99 and is available at www.amazon.com.
How did “Birdie’s Bargain” come about?
For years I had a picture in my head of a little girl, wearing a T-shirt that read I [heart] JESUS, standing in the middle of a street, bawling at a disappearing car. I didn’t know who she was or why she was crying, and I surely didn’t know why she was wearing that T-shirt.
What is the book about?
A 10-year-old girl makes a deal with God for her father’s safe return from the Iraq War. Birdie has questions for God. For starters, why couldn’t God roll history back to Sept. 10, 2001, and fix things — so the next day was an ordinary sunny day and not the devastating lead-in to two wars? Daddy has already been to Iraq twice. Now he’s going again, and Birdie is sure he’ll die.
At the very least, she won’t see him again for a year, and everything will not be OK. (Why do grown-ups lie?) to save money, she, Mom, and baby Billy have moved to Gran’s, where shy Birdie must attend a new school, and no one but bossy Alicia Marie Suggs welcomes her. Doesn’t God remember how hard it was for Birdie to make friends at Bible Camp? Counselor Ron taught about judgment there — and the right way to believe. Has Birdie been praying wrong? Why else would God break their bargain?
What made you decide to write a book about a military family?
I tried on several different families for size. They were obviously leaving her behind, but why? I don’t think I settled on the military aspect until I figured out much more of what the story was going to be about. Part of it, perhaps, was that while I was working on the book, the Vermont National Guard was sent to war zones four different times.
We’re a tiny state, so the pictures of fathers saying goodbye to their families at Burlington Airport were on the front page of the paper at least that many times and had a huge impact on me.
Religion plays a large role in Birdie’s story. Did your own faith impact your writing in any way?
Of course. I was a crazy mixed-up child. Sometimes terrible and sometimes ultra-suspicious. It’s no secret that Birdie is a lot like I was at her age. I’m sure Gran is the adult I want to be.
You have had such a wonderful career in children’s books. What changes have you seen over the years?
So, so many. My first book was taken from the slush pile and published by Thomas Y. Crowell Co., which was established in 1834, and the president was still named Crowell. Are there any of those companies left? My editor, Virginia Buckley, and I worked together for 40 years. Are there any of those partnerships left? Does anyone rescue an unagented manuscript from a slush pile anymore? Is there such a thing as a slush pile anymore? Stop. You’re making an old lady nostalgic.
At first, I wrote in longhand, and then on my manual typewriter. Those carbons were a pain in the neck, believe me, and trying to erase an error or revise a sentence? Computers, word processing, the internet, the whole printing process — all the mechanics of producing a book have changed, as well as what gets published. In many, if not most, houses, prospects of profit rather than literary merit reign supreme. But there are still, in this market-crazy world, writers, editors, and even a few publishers who love books and care deeply about the hearts and minds of the children who might read them. I think Candlewick is one of them.