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Bridge to Terabithia (novel)

Bridge to Terabithia is a work of children's literature about two lonely children who create a magical forest kingdom. Written by Katherine Paterson, HarperCollins published the book in 1977. In 1978, Bridge to Terabithia 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 at a beach and killed.

Bridge to Terabithia is the story of fifth grader Jesse Aarons, who befriends his new neighbor Leslie Burke when he loses a footrace to her at school. Leslie is a smart, talented, outgoing tomboy. Jesse thinks highly of her. Jesse is an artistic boy who, in the beginning of the novel, is fearful, angry, and depressed. After meeting, and then ultimately losing Leslie, Jesse is transformed. He becomes courageous and lets go of his anger and frustration.

The novel's content has been the frequent target of censors and appears at number nine on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books for the decade 1990-2000. The book is studied in English studies classes in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States. PBS made a TV movie in 1985. Disney and Walden Media made a theatrical film version in 2007.


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

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 2nd grade. A creek that runs through Takoma Park, Sligo Creek, possibly served as further inspiration.

The name of Terabithia, the imaginary kingdom, sounds very much like , 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."

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 Aarons Jr., the only boy in a family of five children, is a middle child, living 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 Jesse and admires him. Leslie Burke is an only child who moves from Arlington, VA to the same area as Jesse, along with her wealthy parents, who are both writers.

Jesse and Leslie soon become close friends. Jesse shares his secret love of drawing with Leslie, whereas Leslie shares with Jesse 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 create the imaginary kingdom of Terabithia of which they name themselves King and Queen, and they spend every day after school in it. In Terabithia, they are able to face their fears of the real world, such as of the seventh grade bully Janice Avery.

As a Christmas present, Jess gives Leslie a dog whom she named Prince Terrien, or "P.T." for short, and Leslie gives Jess a drawing pad and a set of watercolors.

Jesse has a crush on his young music teacher, Miss Edmunds, and would do anything to be with her. 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. Jesse can overcome his grief only with the strength and courage that his friendship with Leslie had given him.

Jesse 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 his younger sister, 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.

Leslie's grief-stricken parents decide later to leave the area. As Mr. and Mrs. Burke are leaving, Jesse asks to take some of their wooden planks by their shed. 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 makes her the Princess of Terabithia.


  • Chapter One: Jesse Oliver Aarons Jr.
  • Chapter Two: Leslie Burke
  • Chapter Three: The Fastest Kid in the Fifth Grade
  • Chapter Four: The Rulers of Terabithia
  • Chapter Five: The Giant Killers
  • Chapter Six: The Coming of Prince Terrien
  • Chapter Seven: The Golden Room
  • Chapter Eight: Easter
  • Chapter Nine: The Evil Spell
  • Chapter Ten: The Perfect Day
  • Chapter Eleven: No!
  • Chapter Twelve: Stranded
  • Chapter Thirteen: Building the Bridge


  • Jesse Oliver Aarons Jr. - Also known as Jess, he is an artistic boy, 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, scubadiving and running. Jess Aarons thinks highly of her, and they are loyal friends. She is not socially accepted by the other students in Jess's school, to which she is a newcomer.
  • Joyce Ann Aarons - Jess's bratty four-year-old sister. May Belle thinks Joyce Ann is "nothing but a baby".
  • May Belle Aarons - May Belle is one of Jess's younger sisters. She is described as the only one of Jess's siblings with whom he feels comfortable. However, because she is seven years to Jesse's ten, she does not fit the mold of the ideal confidante to Jess, 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 queen after Leslie dies. She is the only one Jess allows to enter into 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 Jess'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, as by 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 the ideas of their ideas. Both have an incredible desire not to have anything to do with Jess specifically, but with all of their younger siblings more broadly. At the climax of the story, when Jess 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 Jess uses to trick her. Janice's father beats her and she smokes.
  • Miss Edmunds - The somewhat unconventional and controversial music teacher, whom Jesse greatly admires. She invites Jess to go to the Smithsonian Museum, which leads Leslie to go to Terabithia by herself. As a result, Leslie falls from the rope and drowns.
  • Prince Terrien - A puppy that Jesse gave Leslie as a Christmas present. He is the guardian and court jester of Terabithia.
  • Gary Fulcher - A very cocky kid. Jesse and Gary see each other as bitter rivals; how long this has been the case is unknown. Gary and Jesse's rivalry led to Jesse's practicing running all summer long, in anticipation of the new school year, wherein Jesse hoped to be the fastest kid in the fifth grade. Both are beaten at this by Leslie.
  • Mrs. Myers - Jesse and Leslie's teacher, who is given the nickname "Monster Mouth Myers". She thinks highly of Leslie.
  • 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 and do not believe that all who ignore or reject Christianity are subject to damnation.

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 nine.

The censorship attempts stem from death being a part of the plot, Jess' frequent use of the word "lord" outside of prayer, and concerns that the book promotes secular humanism and New Age religions, occultism, Satanism, as well as for accusations of sexual content.

The book is studied in English studies classes in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Philippines, Ecuador,United Kingdom, 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.


  • Bridge to Terabithia, Hardcover edition (ISBN 0-690-01359-0)

External links

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