The Power of Story

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Reading may not change the world — but it changes the reader, and that’s a start.

By Katherine Paterson

The summer that I was 17 years old, I, who was born of missionary parents in China, was rooming with a friend whose parents were missionaries in Africa. Although our mothers had been friends long before we were born, Mary and I first met as summer employees at our denomination’s conference center when she came back to the States to go to college. World War II had driven my parents out of China, so I had lived, since the age of 8, in various places in the southern United States.

Photo by Tim Pierce

One night after the day of waitressing was over, Mary began to read aloud to me Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country. At first it was just the sound of Mary’s Africa-haunted voice caressing the beauty of Paton’s language that kept me wide awake and enthralled. But gradually, chapter by chapter, that beauty told me of the unspeakable oppression and tragedy that was South Africa’s story for too many years. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but suddenly one night the book came alive for me in a new way. . . .

Katherine Paterson, recently named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress, is one of the most respected children’s book authors alive today. Of her more than 30 books, two have won the prestigious Newbery Medal: Bridge to Terebithia (1977) and Jacob Have I Loved (1981). In this essay from Sojourners Magazine, Paterson reflects upon the life-changing potential of stories to instill in us compassion and a desire for justice. Click here to read the full article.

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