Bridge to Terabithia (novel)

Bridge to Terabithia (novel)
Bridge to Terabithia  
Bridge to Terabithia.jpg
Author(s) Katherine Paterson
Illustrator Donna Diamond
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Children's novel
Publisher Crowell
Publication date 1977-10-21
Media type Print (Hardcover and paperback)
Pages 144 pp (hardcover edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-690-01359-0 (hardback edition)
OCLC Number 2818232
LC Classification PZ7.P273 Br

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 HarperCollins. 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 Paterson's son was struck by lightning and killed.

Bridge to Terabithia is the story of fifth grader Jess Aarons, who becomes friends with his new neighbor Leslie Burke after he loses a footrace to her at school. Leslie is a smart, talented, outgoing tomboy, and Jess thinks highly of her. He himself is an artistic boy who, in the beginning of the novel, is fearful, angry, and depressed. After meeting Leslie, Jess is transformed. He becomes courageous and learns to let go of his frustration.

The novel's 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] The book is studied in English studies classes in Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States.

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



Katherine Paterson spent a period of her life living in Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.[2][3] The inspiration for the novel draws from a tragic event that occurred in August 1974 when Lisa Hill, the best friend of Paterson's son David, was struck by lightning at a beach and killed.[2][3][4][5]

A tree dedicated to the girl who died is planted in memorial outside of Takoma Park Elementary School, a local elementary school for Pre-K to second grade.[5] A creek that runs through Takoma Park, Sligo Creek, possibly served as further inspiration.[2][3]

The name of Terabithia, the imaginary kingdom, sounds very much like Terebinthia, a Narnian island, created by C. S. Lewis for both Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Katherine Paterson acknowledges that Terabithia is likely derived from Terebinthia.

"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."[6]

Bridge to Terabithia makes a direct reference to The Chronicles of Narnia, with Leslie lending the stories to Jess so that he can learn to behave like a king.

Plot summary

Jesse (a.k.a. Jess) Aarons, the only boy in a family of five children, lives in rural southwest Virginia. His mother favors his sisters Brenda, Ellie, May Belle, and Joyce Ann, while his father works in Washington, D.C., and therefore spends little time with his children. May Belle, the second youngest sister, adores and admires Jesse. Leslie Burke is an only child who moves from Arlington, Virginia, to the same area as Jesse. Her parents, both writers, are wealthy.

Jess and Leslie soon become close friends. Jess shares his secret love of drawing with Leslie, and Leslie shares with Jess her love of fantasy stories. With this new friendship, the two children create an imaginary kingdom in the woods near their homes, accessible only by a rope swing over a creek. They name the kingdom Terabithia and declare themselves King and Queen, and they spend every day after school there. In Terabithia, they are able to face their real-world fears, such as that of the eighth grade bully Janice Avery.

Leslie gives Jess a drawing pad and a set of watercolors and a tube of paint as a Christmas gift, and Jess gives Leslie a dog whom she names Prince Terrien, or "P.T." for short. They consider P.T. to be the royal protector, Prince of Terabithia and, due to his puppyish antics, court jester.

Jesse has a crush on his young music teacher, Miss Edmunds. The central crisis occurs when Jesse accompanies Miss Edmunds to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and Leslie goes to Terabithia alone. The rope breaks as she is swinging over the rain-swollen creek. Though a good swimmer, Leslie falls into the creek and drowns, possibly due to head injury. Jesse can overcome his grief only with the strength and courage that his friendship with Leslie had given him.

He attempts to deal with his grief by going back to Terabithia alone to make a memorial wreath for Leslie. During his ceremony, he hears a cry for help and finds May Belle caught in the midst of a fallen tree that she had been trying to use as a bridge across the creek. He helps her out of danger and rescues her.

Leslie's grief-stricken parents soon decide to leave the area. As Mr. and Mrs. Burke are leaving, Jesse asks to take some of their wooden planks from their back porch. They say he may have anything left in the house; thus permitted, he goes down to Terabithia to build a bridge. After he finishes the bridge, he takes May Belle over it and decides to make her the Queen of Terabithia. [7]


  • Jesse Oliver Aarons Jr. - in the beginning of the novel, is habitually fearful, angry and depressed. He also has a crush on his music teacher, which plays an integral role in the final events of the story. After meeting, and then ultimately losing, Leslie, Jesse is transformed, in that he becomes courageous and lets go of his anger and frustration.
  • Leslie Burke - An intelligent, talented, imaginative, outgoing girl. Her talents include gymnastics, creativity, swimming, writing and running. Jesse Aarons thinks highly of her, and they are loyal friends. She is not socially accepted by the other students in Jesse's school, to whom she is a newcomer. She is an atheist in the novel, but her religious beliefs are not clearly defined in the 2007 film. She dies when she falls into a creek and gets a very bad head injury.
  • Joyce Ann Aarons - Jess' bratty four-year-old sister. May Belle thinks Joyce Ann is "nothing but a baby."
  • May Belle Aarons - May Belle is one of Jesse's younger sisters. She is described as the only one of Jesse's siblings with whom he feels comfortable. However, because she is six years to Jesse's 10, she does not fit the mold of the ideal confidante to Jesse, 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 Princess after Leslie dies.[7] She is the only one Jesse allows to enter his world and the only one who has any sort of empathy for, or acceptance of, Jesse in his family.
  • Ellie & Brenda Aarons - Ellie and Brenda Aarons are Jesse's two older sisters. They primarily exist as secondary static characters, or characters 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 Brenda is the one who breaks the news to Jesse in the novel only serves to increase the shock.
  • Janice Avery - The school bully at Lark Creek. Janice 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. Janice's father beats her, and she secretly smokes.
  • Miss Edmunds - The somewhat unconventional and controversial music teacher, whom Jesse greatly admires. She invites Jesse to go to the Smithsonian Museum, which leads Leslie to go to Terabithia by herself. As a result, Leslie is alone when she falls from the rope and drowns.
  • Prince Terrien - A puppy that Jesse gave Leslie as a present. He is the guardian and court jester of Terabithia.
  • 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, who is given the nickname "Monster Mouth Myers." She favors Leslie the most out of her class, and says to Jesse when Leslie had passed away that she was the best student she had ever had. Her husband had also died.
  • Leslie's Parents - Novelists who come to the story's location for purposes of their work. Unlike most of the locals, they do not watch television.

Literary significance

The novel's content has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 at number eight.[1] The censorship attempts stem from death being a part of the plot;[8][9] Jess' frequent use of the word "lord" outside of prayer;[10] concerns that the book promotes secular humanism, New Age religion, occultism, and Satanism;[10][11] and for use of offensive language.[12]

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

Film adaptations

There have been two films made based on this book. One was a PBS TV movie made in 1985, starring Annette O'Toole, Julian Coutts, and Julie Beaulieu. A theatrical film version, starring Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb and Zooey Deschanel, was released on February 16, 2007.


  1. ^ a b "The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000". Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association. 2001. 
  2. ^ a b c Kohn, Diana. "Lisa Hill and the Bridge to Terabithia". Takoma-Silver Srping Voice website. Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  3. ^ a b c Internet Archive version of June 2005 story Lisa Hill and the Bridge to Terabithia Retrieved February 14, 2007
  4. ^ Question & Answer from Katherine Paterson's official website Retrieved 2007-02-08
  5. ^ a b "Local Connection". The Washington Post. February 15, 2007. Retrieved March 1, 2010. "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." 
  6. ^ Bridge to Terabithia, 2005 Harper Trophy edition, section "Questions for Katherine Paterson."
  7. ^ a b 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."
  8. ^ The National Council of English Teachers' curriculum report including section "Why Bridge To Terabithia Should Not Be Banned" which discusses the death issue Retrieved 2007-02-08 Archived January 27, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Opinion: What Have Other People Thought About Bridge to Terabithia?" by Scholastic Books Retrieved 2007-02-08
  10. ^ a b Annotated list from "Ten Most Challenged Books of 2003" Retrieved 2009-09-07
  11. ^ American Booksellers Association "Connecticut Residents Seek to Ban Two Newbery Medal Winners from School" (2002) Retrieved 2007-02-08
  12. ^ Annotated list from "Ten Most Challenged Books of 2002” Retrieved 2009-09-07
  13. ^ British Columbia Ministry of Education Grade 5 Reading List Retrieved 2007-02-08
  14. ^ National Strategy Literacy and Learning in Religious Education "Year 9 curriculum" Retrieved 2007-02-08

External links

Preceded by
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
The Westing Game

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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