Jess Aarons trains to be the quickest runner in fifth grade. During the summer, he wakes up early to train. At Jess' school, Lark Creek Elementary, being a good runner is the best way for a fifth-grade boy to distinguish himself. Jess is an artist and has previously spent most of his free time drawing, but now he wants to be an athlete.
Jess notices a family moving into a house nearby, and the daughter of the new family stops by for a visit. Leslie Burke is Jess' age, and she tries to befriend him, but Jess resents Leslie when she beats him in a race at school. His dreams of being the best runner in his grade are dashed when he learns that no amount of practice will make him as fast as Leslie. Jess decides to make friends with Leslie anyway, and he learns that she is a thoughtful and interesting person.
Leslie decides that she and Jess need to invent their own secret country where the two of them can escape from the pressures of their difficult lives. They pick a place in the woods behind Leslie's farmhouse and dub their new kingdom "Terabithia." Jess and Leslie visit their land together daily. Jess provides Leslie with support and companionship, and Leslie improves Jess' world by teaching him new words and telling stories.
Jess and Leslie decide to take revenge on an older girl, Janice, who is unkind to them and who steals things from weaker children. Jess and Leslie fool Janice into thinking she has received a love note from the boy she likes. When Janice tells her friends about the love note, they discover that the note is fake, and Janice is humiliated in front of the whole school.
As Christmas nears, Jess worries about what kind of present he will buy for Leslie. Jess gives her a puppy, and Leslie names it "Prince Terrien, guardian of Terabithia." Leslie gives Jess a watercolor set. By spending part of Christmas vacation with Leslie, Jess feels less worried about the argumentative atmosphere of his own home. Jess gradually grows closer to Leslie's parents as he helps the Burkes repair and decorate their farmhouse.
At school, Leslie hears Janice crying in the girls' bathroom. Jess feels sorry for Janice and asks Leslie to see if Janice needs help. After talking to Janice, Leslie discovers that Janice's father beats her and that the secret has been spread around school. Leslie comforts her, and the two of them become friends.
In the spring, Jess and Leslie continue to play in the forest, but they are surprised by how much the creek has risen from the spring rains. Jess is afraid of crossing it, but he thinks that he will feel braver after he has taken swimming lessons from Leslie, whose favorite hobby is scuba diving.
Jess' music teacher, Miss Edmunds, asks Jess to go with her for a one-on-one field trip to the Smithsonian museum and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. When Jess returns from the trip, his family tells him that Leslie has died. After falling and hitting her head, Leslie drowned in the flooded creek behind her house. Jess is overwhelmed by sadness and disbelief. He does not know how to react to Leslie's mourning family, and he feels angry with Leslie for abandoning him.
Jess goes into the woods to think about the times he spent with Leslie, but his little sister May Belle follows him. May Belle begins to cross the tree bridge over the flooded creek, but she loses her courage halfway across and yells for Jess to help her. Jess brings May Belle to safety on the shore of the creek and discovers that she was trying to join him so that he would not be lonely anymore.
At school, the other students whisper about Jess, but no one speaks to him. A teacher named Mrs. Myers tells Jess that she is sorry for his loss. Mrs. Myers misses Leslie, too, and she says that she and Jess can help each other through the time of loss. Jess understands that Leslie made his life better just by being his friend, and he does not want to forget her. Jess decides to start playing in the land of Terabithia with his sister to show her some of the affection and affirmation that Leslie shared with him.
Bridge To Terabithia Summary
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.
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.