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The Catholic New World
Bridgeport's Terabithia

By Michelle Martin

Seated in front of a display of "Bridgeport's Terabithia," author Katherine Paterson read first from "Bridge to Terabithia," the 1978 Newbery Award-winning novel that was released as a Disney film Feb. 16.

Paterson gave whiny Maybelle, desperate but stoic Jess and imaginative Leslie each their own voices, despite suffering from a cold.

Her audience of fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders at Bridgeport Catholic Academy listened raptly, before launching a series of questions about how Paterson became a writer and what made her write this particular book.

"When I wrote it, I didn't even think it should be published," Paterson said, after explaining that she wrote it after her young son's best friend died unexpectedly. "I didn't think anyone not named Paterson would understand it."

But millions of readers around the world have recognized themselves in her characters, and have written to tell her so.

"Whenever I do something like this, I am always aware that I am speaking to my co-authors," Paterson told the students. "It isn't a story until you bring your ability to read, your imagination, your life experiences and your emotional makeup to it. Then it becomes a story."

Paterson also urged any students who had not yet read the book to do so before seeing the movie, and asked those who had read the book not to spoil the ending for anyone who hadn't.

How Paterson came to appear at the South Side school on Feb. 1- Academic Day of Catholic Schools Week-is a story in itself.

It started when Disney's promotions staff contacted Radio Disney in Chicago (AM 1300) and asked Greg Dellinger (the "G-Man" on the air) if he could set up a school appearance for Paterson, as she made her way from her Vermont home to Los Angeles for the Feb. 3 film premiere.

Dellinger, the father of four Catholic school students , knew some parents and staff at BCA from other appearances, knew it was Catholic Schools Week, and thought it would be a good fit.

What he didn't know was that Bridgeport Catholic Academy's fifth-grade teacher, Gina Geisert, did her master's thesis on Paterson's books and teaches "Bridge to Teribithia" to her students each year.

"It's the kind of book I'm not sure they would pick up on their own," said Geisert, adding that it helps students discuss some difficult issues.

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