logo

44 pages 1 hour read

Katherine Paterson

Bridge To Terabithia

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1977

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Since its 1977 publication, Bridge to Terabithia has become a classic children’s novel. The author, Katherine Paterson, wrote the novel after her son’s best friend was killed by lightning. The novel won a Newbery Medal and is beloved by readers all over the world. Bridge to Terabithia explores the transformative power of friendship, the power of childhood imagination, and the process of grief. Because Bridge to Terabithia deals with grief and death, it is best suited for children ages 8 to 12. This guide references the 2017 HarperCollins edition of the novel.

Plot Summary

Bridge to Terabithia is set in Lark Creek, a small, rural Virginian town. The novel takes place sometime in the mid-1970s, shortly after the end of the Vietnam War. Jesse “Jess” Aarons, the 10-year-old protagonist, is the middle child and the only boy in his family. Jess feels lonely in his family of seven. His family, like most in their community, live in poverty. Because the family cannot live off their small farm, Jess’s father commutes to Washington, DC, for work every day, leaving him with no energy to spend time with Jess, who envies the attention that Mr. Aarons still gives his little sisters. Jess’s mother, drained from the demands of her oldest daughters, has little patience for Jess, blaming him for any undone chores and his littlest sister May Belle’s whining.

Jess loves drawing and the peace it gives him, but he hides his hobby because it draws ridicule. Although he longs to share his art with his father, he knows his father disapproves. A few years ago, when Jess showed his father his art, his father criticized it for being too girly. The only person who encourages Jess is Miss Edmunds, his music teacher. She is also an outsider who doesn’t fit in with other teachers, and Jess thinks he is in love with her.

Desperate for attention and affirmation, especially from his father, Jess takes up running. The year prior, Jess won a race during recess and realized how good it felt to be admired. All summer, he wakes up at dawn to practice running in the cow pasture. One day, his running is interrupted by his new next-door neighbor, a girl his age with a tomboyish appearance. She introduces herself as Leslie Burke and proposes that they be friends. Jess brushes her off and leaves her in the field alone.

At school, Leslie is a misfit. She wears worn-out clothes and does not own a TV. Her parents, affluent writers who once lived in a wealthy suburb, moved to the country to experience a simpler life. Leslie surprises everyone on the first day of school when she beats everyone in the races. Eventually, Jess realizes how silly he was to avoid her. The two strike up an unlikely friendship that transforms Jess’s life.

While exploring behind their houses, Leslie and Jess find a rope swing on a crab apple tree. They use it to swing across the dry creek bed. While exploring on the other side of the creek, they create an imaginary country that Leslie names “Terabithia.” In this magical kingdom, they are the king and queen and invent all sorts of games. They build a castle stronghold, fight off invaders, defeat trolls and giants, and pray to the grove spirits. Terabithia becomes a special secret place where Jess and Leslie are not teased for their friendship or outsider status. While their classmates would mock their vivid creativity, Terabithia gives them the freedom to explore. Jess is an anxious child, but being in Terabithia helps him connect with his emotions and find confidence in himself. Both Jess and Leslie mature throughout their time in Terabithia.

Jess and Leslie become inseparable. At Christmas, Jess gifts Leslie a puppy, whom they crown “Prince Terrien” and name a guardian of their kingdom. Jess helps Leslie and her father renovate their dilapidated farmhouse and feels affirmed by the work. On Easter, Leslie goes to church with Jess for the first time. She finds the story of Easter captivating. When Jess and May Belle warn Leslie that she needs to believe in Jesus or she will go to hell, Leslie says she cannot believe God would allow that.

As spring arrives, rain pummels the area. The once-dry creek bed overflows with water. Jess worries about Prince Terrien drowning and feels anxious whenever they cross into Terabithia. He feels embarrassed by his fear. On the day that he resolves to tell Leslie he does not want to go to Terabithia, Miss Edmunds invites him to accompany her to the National Art Gallery in Washington, DC. Jess is captivated by the art and by getting to spend so much time with Miss Edmunds. When he arrives home, his family is relieved to see him. His older sister tells him that Leslie just died and that they were afraid Jess died too.

Jess’s father tells him that Leslie drowned while crossing the creek. The rope snapped underneath her, and she hit her head. Jess struggles with his loss. He feels guilty for not inviting Leslie to Washington with him. Leslie was a special part of him. Without her, he would never have experienced Terabithia and a new way of seeing the world. By processing Leslie’s loss, Jess comes out stronger and filled with courage to help others the way that Leslie helped him. He builds a bridge into Terabithia, inviting May Belle to enter as the new queen so she can experience the same transformation that he did.

blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text