Country United States
Originally published 21 October 1977
Genre Children's literature
Awards John Newbery Medal
Illustrator Donna Diamond
Publication date October 21, 1977
Publisher Thomas Y. Crowell Co.
|ISBN 0-690-01359-0 (hardback edition)|
Characters Jesse Aarons, Leslie Burke, May Belle Aarons, Joyce Aarons, Ellie Aarons
Similar Katherine Paterson books, John Newbery Medal winners, Children's literature
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." When at the end something very tragic happens to Leslie, Jess learns to overcome it and stay strong.
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. 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. 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 8 years old. 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. Sligo Creek, which runs through Takoma Park, may have provided inspiration, too.
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."
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 Prydain Chronicles.
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. Jess 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, Jess 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. After using a rope to swing over a creek on a sunny day, Jess and Leslie 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.
On being invited to a trip to an art museum with Miss Edmunds, Jesse accepts the offer without notifying Leslie or his parents beforehand (Jess 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). Jess's father reassures Jess 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, Jess 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 the "mind wide open" and all of the inhabitants of Terabithia welcome their new princess.
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. On the ALA list for 2000–2009 it ranks #28. The challenges stem from death being a part of the plot; Jesse's frequent use of the word "lord" outside of prayer; allegations that the book promotes secular humanism, New Age religion, occultism, and Satanism; and for use of offensive language.
The book is often featured in English studies classes in Ireland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Philippines, Ecuador, the United Kingdom, 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.
There have been two films made based on the book. One was a PBS TV movie with the original title made in 1985, starring Annette O'Toole, Julian Coutts, and Julie Beaulieu.
A theatrical film with the original title was released on February 16, 2007, starring Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Robert Patrick, Bailee Madison, and Zooey Deschanel.
A musical stage adaptation ("supported by a lyrical score") entitled The Bridge to Terabithia is listed for sale by Stageplays.com, credited to Paterson and Stephanie S. Tolan, another children's writer,. It was cataloged 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).