Bridge to Terabithia


Bridge to Terabithia is a work of children's literature about two lonely children who create a magical forest kingdom. It was written by Katherine Paterson and was published in 1977 by Thomas Crowell. In 1978, it won the Newbery Medal. Paterson drew inspiration for the novel from a real event that occurred in August 1974 when a friend of her son was struck by lightning.

The novel tells the story of fifth grader Jesse Aarons, who becomes friends with his new neighbor Leslie Burke after he loses a footrace to her at school. She is a smart, talented, outgoing tomboy from a wealthy family, and Jess thinks highly of her. He is an artistic boy from a poorer family who, in the beginning, is fearful, angry, and depressed. After meeting Leslie, his life is transformed. He becomes courageous and learns to let go of his frustration. They create a kingdom for themselves, which Leslie names "Terabithia."

Its content has been the frequent target of censors and appears at number eight on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books for the decade 1990–2000.[1] It is studied in English studies classes in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

It has been adapted for the screen twice: a 1985 PBS TV movie and a 2007 Disney/Walden Media feature film.


Katherine Paterson lived for a time in Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC.[2] The novel was inspired by a tragedy of that time: on August 14, 1974, her son David's best friend, Lisa Christina Hill, died after being struck by lightning in Bethany Beach, Delaware. She was eight years old.[2][3][4] There is a tree dedicated to her in a memorial outside Takoma Park Elementary School (pre-K to second grade), which she and David attended.[4] Sligo Creek, which runs through Takoma Park, may have provided inspiration, too.[2]

The name of the imaginary kingdom is similar to that of the Narnian island Terebinthia, created by C. S. Lewis in 1951 or earlier for Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Paterson observed in 2005:

"I thought I had made it up. Then, rereading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, I realized that I had probably gotten it from the island of Terebinthia in that book. However, Lewis probably got that name from the Terebinth tree in the Bible, so both of us pinched from somewhere else, probably unconsciously."[5]

It makes a direct reference to The Chronicles of Narnia as a set of books that Leslie lends to Jesse so he can learn to behave like a king.

Another fantasy series indirectly referenced is The Chronicles of Prydain.

Plot summary

The book chronicles the life of an artistic young boy named Jesse Aarons and the burdens and hardships of his home life, such as his duties on his family's farm and the constant agitations and annoyances of his four sisters. Jess has straw-colored hair and long legs. Leslie Burke is an intelligent, wealthy girl who has just moved into "the old Perkins place" down the road from him. Jesse is initially cold toward Leslie. After having trained all summer to become his class's fastest runner, Jess is infuriated when Leslie outruns him in a recess footrace.

After further negative experiences with classroom tormentors or rivals, including Gary Fulcher, Jesse eagerly anticipates the arrival of music class due to his infatuation for its beautiful young teacher, Miss Edmunds. However, on the day music class begins, he discovers a fondness for Leslie, eccentric and ostracized, and they develop a friendship. He marvels at the way she genuinely likes to read and write, not just to impress the teacher, and the way she makes running look beautiful and effortless (not that he would ever actually say anything of the sort). On one sunny day, Jess and Leslie use a rope to swing over a creek, and they decide to design an imaginary sanctuary from the burdens and pains of everyday life. The pair reign as monarchs, calling their domain Terabithia and constructing a small refuge in which their imaginary escapades take place.

At school, the pair are challenged by an older bully named Janice Avery, whom they immensely detest. After Janice steals a package of Twinkies from Jesse's younger sister May Belle's lunch, they forge a romantic letter under the disguise of Willard Hughes, the object of Janice's infatuation, setting her up for misunderstanding. The plan is successful, exposing Janice to public mortification. Later, Leslie encounters a sobbing Janice in the girls' bathroom. It develops that Janice's father beats her severely, and that this explains the bully's difficulty relating to other people. Janice is upset since she had confided her troubles to her two best friends, and they have spread the rumor all throughout the school. At this, both Jesse and Leslie develop sympathy for—and Leslie even the beginnings of a friendship with Janice. In the meantime, Leslie's bond with Jesse also increases powerfully, and they continue to indulge in the pleasures derived from Terabithia, adopting a puppy named Prince Terrien, abbreviated to P.T.

One day in Terabithia Jess complains about going to church for Easter and Leslie asks if she can come. Jess is uncertain about her request and he asks his mother if Leslie could come. His mother reluctantly agrees and off they go. After service Leslie inquires what happened if you don't believe in God. May Belle jumps in and claims that God will damn you to hell. The kids looked at her in shock and Jesse tells her to not go around damning people to hell.

On being invited to a trip to an art museum with Miss Edmunds, Jesse accepts the offer without notifying Leslie or his parents beforehand (Jesse tells his mother while she is half-asleep). He enjoys the day with Miss Edmunds, but upon returning home is horrified to learn that while he was away, Leslie attempted to visit Terabithia on her own and died of drowning when the rope swing broke. A shocked Jesse, incapable of absorbing or accepting the impact or horror of Leslie's sudden death, denies his grief and even his friend's existence. It is implied that May Belle is terrified that Leslie may be sentenced to eternal damnation due to Leslie's doubts regarding religion (revealed the previous Easter). Jesse's father reassures him that God could not possibly be so unfair. After Jesse miserably accepts the inevitability of Leslie's death, he is saddened even further by the grief exhibited by her mourning family, who have decided to return to their previous home in Pennsylvania.

Jesse decides to pay tribute to Leslie by crafting a funeral wreath, bending a pine bough into a circle. Leaving it in their special pine grove in Terabithia, Jesse discovers a terrified May Belle halfway across the creek—having attempted to follow Jesse over the fallen tree he used to get to Terabithia after the rope broke—and assists her back. The Burke family grants Jesse some lumber (from aborted renovations) they are leaving behind, which he uses to build a more permanent, though rudimentary, bridge. He chooses to fill the void left by Leslie's passing by making May Belle the princess of Terabithia and presumably the queen in future, permitting her to share his sanctuary from then onward (Terabithia had been kept as Jesse's and Leslie's secret before). Then, Jesse tells May Belle to keep her "mind wide open" and all of the inhabitants of Terabithia welcome their new princess.

  • Jesse Aarons — In the beginning of the novel, is habitually fearful, angry and depressed. He also has a crush on his music teacher, Miss Edmunds, which plays an integral role in the final events of the story. After meeting and then ultimately losing Leslie, he is transformed, in that he becomes courageous and lets go of his anger and frustration.
  • Leslie Burke — An intelligent, talented, imaginative, outgoing girl, it is she who creates the imaginary kingdom of Terabithia. Her talents include gymnastics, creative writing, swimming and running. Jesse thinks highly of her, and they are loyal friends. She is a newcomer to Jesse's school, and not socially accepted by the other students. She dies when she falls into a creek and sustains a head injury that keeps her unconscious until she drowns.
  • Joyce Ann Aarons — Jesse's bratty baby sister. May Belle thinks she is "nothing but a baby".
  • May Belle Aarons — One of Jesse's younger sisters. She is described as the only one of his siblings with whom he feels comfortable. However, because she is six years to his 10, she does not fit the mold of the ideal confidante to him, leaving him still desperate for companionship. She clearly worships him from the beginning, and like him, feels that she does not have a place in the family. She is the first of his sisters to learn about Terabithia, and becomes the princess after Leslie dies.[6] She is the only one he allows to enter his world and the only one who has any sort of empathy for, or acceptance of, him in his family.
  • Ellie and Brenda Aarons — Jesse's two older sisters. They primarily exist as secondary static characters, or ones who do not grow or change as a result of the events of a story. They are never mentioned separately within the novel and are never portrayed in a positive light. From the beginning of the story, they continually ask for favors from their mother, and pocket money which she cannot afford to give them. With sufficient whining, they know how to get their way with their parents, such as asking for five dollars to pay for school supplies from their mother by saying that their father promised that they could have the money. Being the elder of the two and the eldest child in the family, Ellie develops their ideas. Both have an incredible desire not to have anything to do with Jesse specifically, but with all of their younger siblings more broadly. At the climax of the story, when Jesse learns of Leslie's death, Brenda is the one who tells him of it. The fact that she is the one who breaks the news to him in the novel only serves to increase the shock.
  • Janice Avery — The school bully at Lark Creek. She is very overweight and tends to become very offended when people tease her for being so. She has a crush on Willard Hughes, which Jesse uses to trick her. Her father beats her and she secretly smokes. Also, her face is used on the giant troll living in Terabithia for the 2007 movie.
  • Miss Edmunds — The somewhat unconventional and controversial music teacher, whom Jesse greatly admires. She invites him to go to the Smithsonian Museum, which leads Leslie to go to Terabithia by herself. As a result, she is alone when she falls from the rope.
  • Prince Terrien — A puppy that Jesse gave Leslie as a Christmas present. He is the guardian and court jester of Terabithia. In the book, he is referred to as P.T.
  • Gary Fulcher — He and Jesse both hope to be the fastest kid in the fifth grade; he serves as another bully in the story, but he is not quite as mean as Janice Avery.
  • Mrs. Myers — Jesse and Leslie's teacher, given the nickname "Monster Mouth Myers." She favors Leslie, and tells Jesse after Leslie's death that she was the best student she had ever had. Her husband had also died.
  • Bill and Judy Burke — Leslie's parents, novelists who come to the story's location for their work. Mom — book writer, Dad — political writer. Unlike most of the locals, they do not watch television.
Literary significance

The novel's content has been the frequent target of censors. It ranks number 8 on the American Library Association list of most commonly challenged books in the United States for 1990–1999.[1] On the ALA list for 2000–2009 it ranks #28.[7] The challenges stem from death being a part of the plot;[8][9] Jesse's frequent use of the word "lord" outside of prayer;[10] allegations that the book promotes secular humanism, New Age religion, occultism, and Satanism;[11] and for use of offensive language.[12]

The book is often featured in English studies classes in Ireland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada,[13] the Philippines, Ecuador, the United Kingdom,[14] Costa Rica, Panama, South Africa and the United States.

In 2012 Bridge to Terabithia was ranked number ten among all-time best children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal, a monthly with primarily U.S. audience. Two other books by Paterson made the top 100.[15]


Two films have been made based on the book, both with the original title. One was a PBS TV movie made in 1985, starring Annette O'Toole, Julian Coutts, and Julie Beaulieu. The second was a theatrical film released on February 16, 2007, starring Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Robert Patrick, Bailee Madison, and Zooey Deschanel; the adaptation was done in part by David Paterson himself.

A musical stage adaptation ("supported by a lyrical score") entitled The Bridge to Terabithia is listed for sale by, credited to Paterson and Stephanie S. Tolan, another children's writer.[16] It was catalogued by the Library of Congress in 1993, with primary credit to Steve Liebman for the music, as Bridge to Terabithia: a play with music (New York: S. French, c1992).[17]

  1. ^ a b "100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999". Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association ( 2001. Retrieved 2015-01-14. 
  2. ^ a b c Kohn, Diana (2004). "Lisa Hill and the Bridge to Terabithia". Takoma-Silver Spring Voice. Archived from the original on June 14, 2009. Retrieved 2007-02-14. 
  3. ^ "Questions". Katherine Paterson ( Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  4. ^ a b "Local Connection". The Washington Post. February 15, 2007. Retrieved 2010-03-01. After you have read or seen Bridge to Terabithia, visit Takoma Park Elementary, the school David Paterson and Lisa Hill—the inspirations for Jess and Leslie—attended in the 1970s.  (subscription required)
  5. ^ "Questions for Katherine Paterson". Bridge to Terabithia, 2005 Harper Trophy edition.
  6. ^ Paterson, Katherine; Diamond, Donna. Bridge to Terabithia Movie Tie-in Edition. HarperEntertainment. ISBN 0-06-122728-5. The last sentence of the novel, "Shhh, yes. There's a rumor going around that the beautiful girl arriving today might be the queen they've been waiting for."
  7. ^ "Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009". American Library Association. Retrieved 2015-01-14. 
  8. ^ The National Council of English Teachers curriculum report including section "Why Bridge To Terabithia Should Not Be Banned" which discusses the death issue. Archived Archived January 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. 2007-01-27. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  9. ^ "Opinion: What Have Other People Thought About Bridge to Terabithia?" Archived December 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.. Scholastic Kids ( Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  10. ^ "Connecticut Residents Seek to Ban Two Newbery Medal Winners from School" Archived February 21, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.. American Booksellers Association. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  11. ^ Annotated list from "Ten Most Challenged Books of 2003" Archived September 1, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2009-09-07
  12. ^ Annotated list from "Ten Most Challenged Books of 2002" Archived 2010-10-26 at the Wayback Machine.. ALA. Retrieved 2009-09-07.
  13. ^ Grade 5 Reading List. British Columbia Ministry of Education. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  14. ^ "Year 9 curriculum" Archived September 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.. National Strategy Literacy and Learning in Religious Education. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  15. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (July 7, 2012). "Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results". A Fuse #8 Production. Blog. School Library Journal ( Retrieved 2015-10-30. 
  16. ^ "The Bridge to Terabithia: Katherine Paterson & Stephanie S. Tolan". Distributor product display. Largest Collection of Plays and Musicals in the World. Retrieved 2014-08-16.
  17. ^ Subject (LCSH) "Musicals—Librettos". "Bridge to Terabithia: a play with music". Library of Congress Online Catalog. LCCN Permalink ( Retrieved 2015-10-31.
  • Bridge to Terabithia, Hardcover edition (ISBN 0-690-01359-0)
External links
  • Study guide created by the author (PDF)
  • "Lisa Hill and the Bridge to Terabithia" by Diana Kohn (PDF)
Preceded by Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Newbery Medal recipient 1978 Succeeded by The Westing Game

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