Katherine Paterson

Bridge To Terabithia

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Bridge To Terabithia Summary

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Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, is a Newbery Medal-winning children’s classic. Originally published in 1972, it is the story of an unlikely friendship, the power of the imagination, and a tragedy that ends in death. Due to the intense emotions it may prompt surrounding the death, this novel is best for children ages 8-12.

Jess Aaron is an 11-year-old boy living in rural Virginia. His family is poor. His preoccupied father works very hard for little money and then loses his job. Jess has four sisters and feels surrounded by girls. At school, he is not accepted by other children. He is known as the crazy kid who draws all the time and is called a sissy. Jess loves to paint and draw. His father does not encourage his art.

Jess decides that he wants to be the fastest runner in the 5th grade, starting on the first day of school. He wakes up early every morning all summer to practice running. He hopes that his success at running will earn him respect from both his schoolmates and from his father. Winning will be his chance to shine.

There is a new girl at school named Leslie Burke, who lives next door to Jess. She comes from a large, suburban school and her family is wealthy. Her father is a writer who works from home. She is different from the other girls in their class. She dresses funny and her family does not have a TV. She is picked on for being different.

Recess on the first day of school arrives. Jess cannot wait to show everyone how fast he can run. Leslie goes over to the boys’ side of the playground and joins in the race. She surprises people by running faster than everyone else, including Jess.

At first, Jess avoids Leslie because she is a girl. He is surrounded by girls at home. Plus, Leslie is different and has problems making friends at school. Jess is trying to fit in, not to become friends with someone else who is a misfit. Despite their differences, friendship blossoms between Jess and Leslie and they become unlikely friends. Their friendship will change everything.

At school, they are teased for their boy-girl friendship. After school, they escape to the imaginary country of Terabithia. Terabithia is a secret, magical kingdom in the woods ruled by Jess as King and Leslie as Queen. Imagination rules in Terabithia. Leslie is creative and has an incredible imagination. She introduces Jess to classic literature like Moby Dick and Hamlet. In Terabithia, they invent their own wonderful games. They defeat intruders and pray to the Spirits of the Grove to end a long rain spell.

Terabithia is a place where Jess and Leslie can escape from their difficult lives. In Terabithia, they are not outsiders. They are King and Queen. They are in control here, even though the rest of their lives are out of control. They are free to be their creative and artistic selves. Jess and Leslie accept each other unconditionally in Terabithia. Jess, who feels lonely and rejected at home and school, gains solace in Terabithia.

Outside of Terabithia and school, Jess and Leslie celebrate holidays together. At Christmas, Leslie gives Jess an expensive art set to encourage his talents. Jess gives Leslie a puppy. At Easter, Jess takes Leslie to church. This is the first time that Leslie, who is a nonbeliever, has attended a church. This challenges Jess’s beliefs. He has been taught that non-believers like Leslie will go to hell.

Jess spends a day touring art galleries in Washington with his music teacher, Miss Edmunds. This opportunity expands Jess’s world and makes him feel special. It is even better because he has had a long-term crush on Miss Edmunds.

An amazing and wonderful day turns into a tragedy. When Jess gets home, he learns that Leslie drowned that morning in a tragic accident. Leslie, who was always very brave, drowned while attempting to swing over a rain-engorged gully to enter Terabithia.

Jess mourns the loss of his friend, who gave him a new way of seeing the world. The novel follows Jess through the stages of grief: denial, anger, fear, and sorrow. He emerges from his grief with the courage, hope, and freedom that he gained from his friendship.

At the end of the novel, Jess builds a solid bridge made of wood planks to reach Terabithia. He shares this magical world with his little sister, May Belle, and makes her the new queen. Jess realizes that the gift of imagination needs to be shared with others.

Author Katherine Paterson was born in China to missionary parents. She moved 18 times before she was 18 years old. She spent a year as a teacher in rural Virginia. Her students inspired the characters in Bridge to Terabithia. She spent four years as a missionary in Japan and set her first three novels in Japan. She won the National Book Award for The Master Puppeteer and The Great Gilly Hopkins. She won Newbery Medals for Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved.