Bridge to Terabithia (novel)

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Bridge to Terabithia
Bridge to Terabithia.jpg
First edition
AuthorKatherine Paterson
IllustratorDonna Diamond
CountryUnited States
GenreChildren's novel
PublisherThomas Y. Crowell Co.
Publication date
October 21, 1977
ISBN0-690-01359-0 (hardback edition)
LC ClassPZ7.P273 Br

Bridge to Terabithia is a book about two children named Leslie and Jesse who create a magical forest kingdom in their imaginations. The novel was written by Katherine Paterson and published in 1977 by Thomas Crowell. In 1978, it won the Newbery Medal.[1] Paterson drew inspiration for the novel from a real event that occurred in August 1974 when her son's friend was struck dead 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. Leslie is a tomboy from a wealthy family, and Jesse thinks highly of her. Jesse is an artistic boy from a poorer family who, in the beginning, is fearful and angry. After meeting Leslie, however, his life is transformed. He becomes courageous and learns to let go of his frustration. The two children create a kingdom for themselves, which Leslie names "Terabithia."

The novel's content has been the frequent target of censorship and appears at number eight on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books for the decade 1990–2000.[2]

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

Background of book[edit]

Katherine Paterson lived for a time in Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.[3] The novel was inspired by a incident during 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.[3][4][5]

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.[6]

The novel makes a direct reference to The Chronicles of Narnia as a series of books Leslie lends to Jess, in order to help him learn to behave like a king.

The novel also indirectly alludes to the fantasy series The Chronicles of Prydain.[citation needed]

Plot Summary[edit]

Artist young Jess Aarons deals with the hardships of his home life, such as his duties on his family's farm and the annoyances of his four sisters. Leslie Burke is an intelligent, wealthy girl who has just moved down the road from him. After Jess trains all summer to become his class's fastest runner, he becomes infuriated when Leslie outruns him in a recess footrace. At first Jess dislikes Leslie, and tries to ignore her as she approaches him several times.

Jess eagerly awaits the arrival of music class due to his infatuation for its beautiful and kind young teacher, Miss Julia Edmunds. On the day class begins, however, he discovers a fondness for Leslie, and they develop a friendship. One day, Jess and Leslie use a rope to swing over a creek near their homes, and they design an imaginary sanctuary. They reign as monarchs, calling their domain "Terabithia", and keep it hidden, though Jess's younger sister May Belle later follows Jess and discovers Terabithia.

At school, Jess and Leslie are challenged by an older bully named Janice Avery. After Janice steals a package of Twinkies from May Belle's lunch, Jess and Leslie forge a romantic letter pretending to be Willard Hughes, a boy Janice likes, setting her up for humiliation. The plan is successful, and Janice is publicly embarrassed. Later, when Leslie encounters Janice sobbing in the girls' bathroom, it is revealed that Janice's father badly beats her, explaining her difficulty relating to other people. Jess and Leslie develop some sympathy for Janice, and a compassionate friendship develops among the three of them.

One day, as Jess complains about having to go to church for Easter with his family, Leslie asks if she can join him. After the mass, Leslie inquires what happens if you don't believe in God. May Belle claims that "He will damn you to hell."

Invited on a trip to an art museum with Miss Edmunds, Jess accepts the offer without notifying Leslie or his parents. Returning home, he learns that while he was away, Leslie attempted to visit Terabithia on her own and drowned in the creek when the rope broke and she hit her head on a rock. Jess is terrified that Leslie may be sentenced to eternal damnation due to her doubts regarding religion, but his father assures him that God does not send little girls to hell. After Jess accepts the inevitability of Leslie's death, he is saddened by the grief exhibited by her mourning parents, who have decided to return to their previous home in Pennsylvania.

Jess pays tribute to Leslie by crafting a funeral wreath, bending a pine bough into a circle. Leaving it in their special pine grove in Terabithia, he discovers a terrified May Belle halfway across the creek and assists her back. He chooses to fill the void left by Leslie's death by making May Belle the new Queen of Terabithia. Then he tells her to keep her "mind wide open" as the inhabitants of Terabithia welcome their new ruler.


  • Jess Aarons – In the beginning of the novel, is habitually fearful, angry and depressed due to his family struggles. 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. Jess thinks highly of her, and they are loyal friends. She is a newcomer to his 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.
  • May Belle Aarons – One of Jess' 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 is closest to 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 queen after Leslie's death.[7] She is welcomed into his world because of being the only one who to show any sort of empathy for, or acceptance of, him in his family.
  • Ellie and Brenda Aarons – Jess' 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. They continually ask for favors from their mother and boss their younger siblings around.
  • Joyce Ann Aarons – Jess' four-year-old youngest sister. She is mainly tended to by the mother and has no significant role in the story, but as May Belle describes her, she is "nothing but a baby".
  • 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. Janice has a crush on Willard Hughes, which Jess and Leslie use 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 Jess 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 and drowns.
  • Prince Terrien – A puppy that Jesse gave Leslie for Christmas. He is the guardian and court jester of Terabithia. In the novel, he is referred to as P.T.
  • Gary Fulcher – He and Jess 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 – Jess and Leslie's teacher, given the nickname "Monster Mouth Myers." She favors Leslie, and tells Jess after her death that she was the best student she had ever had. Her husband had also died.
  • William and Judith (Hancock) Burke – Leslie's parents, novelists who come to the story's location for their work. Mother—book writer, Father—political writer. Unlike most of the locals, they do not watch or own a television. Leslie calls them "Bill and Judy."


At the time of the book's publication, Kirkus Reviews said, "Paterson, who has already earned regard with her historical fiction set in Japan, proves to be just as eloquent and assured when dealing with contemporary American children--and Americans of very different backgrounds at that."[8] According to The Horn Book Magazine, "Jess and his family are magnificently characterized; the book abounds in descriptive vignettes, humorous sidelights on the clash of cultures, and realistic depictions of rural school life. The symbolism of falling and of building bridges forms a theme throughout the story, which is one of remarkable richness and depth, beautifully written."[9] In a retrospective essay about the Newbery Medal-winning books from 1976 to 1985, literary critic Zena Sutherland wrote of Bridge to Terabithia, "The poignant story is all the more effective because Paterson lets Jesse express his grief and guilt rather than telling readers that he feels them. There is no glossing-over; nor is there a reaching for dramatic effect."[10]

Literary significance[edit]

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.[2] On the ALA list for 2000–2009 it ranks #28.[11] The challenges stem from death being a part of the plot;[12][13] Jesse's frequent use of the word "lord" outside of prayer;[14] allegations that it promotes secular humanism, New Age religion, occultism, and Satanism;[15] and for use of offensive language.[16]

The novel is often featured in English studies classes in Ireland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada,[17] the Philippines, Ecuador, the United Kingdom,[18] Costa Rica, Panama, South Africa and the United States.

In 2012, the novel 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.[19]


Two films have been made based on the novel, 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, directed by the co-creator of Nickelodeon's Rugrats and former Hanna-Barbera animator Gabor Csupo and starring Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Robert Patrick, Bailee Madison, and Zooey Deschanel; the adaptation was done in part by David Paterson himself. While the giant troll was adapted, the Dark Master, Squogres (a race of squirrel/ogre-like creatures), Hairy Vultures, and many unidentified creatures were created for the film.

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.[20] 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).[21]


  1. ^ admin (1999-11-30). "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). Retrieved 2018-12-24.
  2. ^ a b "100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999". Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association ( 2001. Retrieved 2015-01-14.
  3. ^ a b Kohn, Diana (2004). "Lisa Hill and the Bridge to Terabithia". Takoma-Silver Spring Voice. Archived from the original on April 12, 2009. Retrieved 2007-02-14.
  4. ^ "Questions". Katherine Paterson ( Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  5. ^ "Local Connection". The Washington Post. February 15, 2007. Archived from the original on November 3, 2012. 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)
  6. ^ "Questions for Katherine Paterson". Bridge to Terabithia, 2005 Harper Trophy edition.
  7. ^ Paterson, Katherine; Diamond, Donna (2006-12-26). Bridge to Terabithia Movie Tie-in Edition. HarperEntertainment. ISBN 0-06-122728-5.
  8. ^ "BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson , Donna Diamond". Kirkus Reviews. September 1, 1977. Retrieved January 18, 2020.
  9. ^ The Horn Book Magazine, February 1978, cited in "What did we think of...?". The Horn Book. January 24, 1999. Retrieved January 25, 2020.
  10. ^ Sutherland, Zena (1986). "Newbery Medal Books 1976-1985". In Kingman, Lee (ed.). Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books 1976-1985. Boston: The Horn Book, Incorporated. p. 157. ISBN 0-87675-004-8.
  11. ^ "Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009". American Library Association. Retrieved 2015-01-14.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "Opinion: What Have Other People Thought About Bridge to Terabithia?" Archived December 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Scholastic Kids ( Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ Annotated list from "Ten Most Challenged Books of 2003" Archived September 1, 2009, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2009-09-07
  16. ^ Annotated list from "Ten Most Challenged Books of 2002" Archived 2010-10-26 at the Wayback Machine. ALA. Retrieved 2009-09-07.
  17. ^ Grade 5 Reading List. British Columbia Ministry of Education. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  18. ^ "Year 9 curriculum" Archived September 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. National Strategy Literacy and Learning in Religious Education. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  19. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (July 7, 2012). "Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results". A Fuse #8 Production. Blog. School Library Journal ( Archived from the original on 2012-07-13. Retrieved 2015-10-30.
  20. ^ "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.
  21. ^ Subject (LCSH) "Musicals—Librettos". "Bridge to Terabithia: a play with music"[permanent dead link]. Library of Congress Online Catalog. LCCN Permalink ( Retrieved 2015-10-31.

External links[edit]

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