Katherine Paterson is the consummate storyteller, a crafter of tales in which characters must deal with the most elemental hopes and fears in settings - be it a Chesapeake Bay island or the mountains of China - that are alternately blissful and beatific, terrifying and desperate. In a sensitive analysis of the novels and stories of this award-winning children's author, Gary D. Schmidt finds that Paterson is, in a subtle way, a didactic writer, informed by her hopeful and ethical vision of the future. Here is a writer, Schmidt argues, who does not shy away from horrendous topics - unwanted foster children, the death of a schoolchild's best friend, rape, murder, political intrigue, religious mania, and war. He finds that Paterson's books - among them the National Book Award-winning Master Puppeteer (1976) and The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978) and the Newberry Award-winning Bridge to Terabithia (1977) and Jacob Have I Loved (1980) - are successful when the reader journeys with the author through distressing situations and then arrives, in a moment of grace, at a place of spiritual enlightenment. Paterson's characters, Schmidt argues, search for fathers, for families, for love and acceptance, for themselves, they recall the characters of Flannery O'Connor, who also find themselves caught in moments of distress and then find, like Paterson's characters, moments of grace. As Schmidt shows, that moment may come in the building of a bridge or in coming to understand the implications of a carol or poem or in resolving to live a life of burdens shared. Schmidt begins this study with a biographical essay about Paterson's life, drawn from her own essays as well as from an interview with her he conducted at her home in Barre, Vermont. In the balance of the book he addresses her copious work, beginning with her early historical fiction and proceeding on to the novels that explore her major themes - of the plight of prodigal children and the search for true family. Later chapters examine Paterson's more recent historical fiction and her retelling of folk tales. Throughout his discussion Schmidt focuses on the stories' elements of hope, for, as Paterson has said in a National Book Award acceptance speech, she wants to be "a spy for hope." Schmidt's lucid study brings readers a closer understanding of this remarkable "spy."