copyright 1978 Katherine Paterson. HarperCollins Children's Books. 128 pgs. Intermediate fiction, approx. ages 9-12.


A boy and a girl like the same things and hate the same things and create a magic kingdom where only he and she and the puppy can go. You have to swing on a rope across a canyon to get there. How could you not want to read about that?

Not the most cheerful of kids' books, this one deals with some mighty big issues, things that aren't a part of most children's literature. Terrible things happen. Warning: by the time these terrible things happen, if you've been paying attention at all, you will not want anything bad to happen, EVER, to the characters. But it does. And it will hurt you.

I read this when I was eleven, and cried and cried. Somewhere in the next dozen years I would forget the specifics, then reread it at twenty-three and cry and cry.

Don't misunderstand - it's not a bummer. It ends with a feeling of gentle celebration, and there's no need to cry once you've shut the book. It's a well-told "remember to appreciate what you have" catharsis, completely accessible to children.

Based on a true story. This book won the Newbery in 1978, and we're glad it did.
After finishing this book in fourth grade, I realized for the first time that a book could convey so much more than I ever thought possible.

Before this I had enjoyed numerous children's books, whose only purpose was to foster continued reading. (The Hardy Boys, and all of the books that appeal to a grade-schooler’s sense of humor, but don't really touch anything else) I'm not downplaying the need those types of books, but Bridge to Terabithia was just so satisfying compared to those others.

Patterson should be commended on her ability to write at an elementary school students level, and yet introduce adult themes and not be condescending.

This is, to the best of my reckoning, the greatest children's book ever written.* I suggest reading it no matter your age. If you have the opportunity to read it aloud to children, so much the better.

Katherine Paterson ripped out my heart and gave it back with a smile.

I was 31 when I read it to my seven year old son. At the point, 90% of the way through the book, when something bad happens, I was so consumed with emotion that I had to stop reading to regain my composure. My son was more concerned for his crying father than for the characters in the book. It hurt me and I loved it.

This book is universally effective in connecting the reader with the psyche of the protagonists. I have discussed the book with multiple readers from a variety of backgrounds and everyone is able to strongly empathize with Jess even though none of them have been small-town southern trailer trash. The connection to Leslie is similarly powerful though no one had such a colorfully juxtaposed origin. I think that Paterson is able to achieve this by painting with incredible depth -- real characters with complex and multifaceted personalities and experiences who are thrust into real and complex situations. We all know people (hell, we are people) who have some traits and experiences in common with these characters. Enough so that it works like a charm.

When these best friends -- who you grow to love as you read, are afflicted with a tragedy that separates them forever, you grieve as if you had lost genuine cherished friends. This isn’t just me. It appears to be a nearly universal response to the story. As I talked to people about the book, it was clear that virtually everyone suffered from the reading and came away enchanted. It’s strange that something so acutely painful ends up being championed by those most hurt, but that’s what I see.

Get it. Read it. Cry.


* I’m certainly not the end-all authority on all children’s literature, but this book won the 1978 Newbery Medal, is commonly cited by children’s librarians as a great work, and my experiences as: an early reader, a father of two, and the bearer of two degrees in education lend me the arrogance to make such a claim. :-)

Note: I have not read the book and as such this review is solely on the movie alone and has nothing to do with the book or the movie’s relationship to the book. But yes I am aware that this movie was based on a book.

This is a very curious film. Generally speaking, not very unique, but certainly curious. The burning question that will undoubtedly be in almost everybody’s mind who has seen this film (and haven’t read the book perhaps) is: Are the fantasy sequences real, or not real, or somewhere in between? Were they only in the imagination of the kids, or did their imagination allow them to access a secret extraplaner world? Or, is it that their imagination created the world which made it exist, relating the experience to the much-debated philosophical question of whether or not we are just living in a world imagined by some child’s imagination or novel writer? The trailer suggested that the kids were literally accessing a secret world. The hard question to answer is: how much were the trailers deceiving us?

The biggest question, however, is are those other questions meant to have answers anyway? Or, in other words, does it matter if the world was real or not?

That’s the area where this film makes you think. The characters certainly don’t. Most of them are more or less off-the-shelf: the good-hearted and well-meaning protagonist - Jesse Aarons, played convincingly by Josh Hutcherson, his tom boy girl friend/new kid in town - Leslie Burke, played by little cutie AnnaSophia Robb, the whiny little sister -May Belle Aarons, the caring mother, the hardass father (Jesse’s father played by Mr. T-1000 Robert Patrick), the school bullies, the quirky teacher, artsy fartsy liberal and enlightened parents... even down to the faithful dog. On the bullies: they are not as ruthless or sadistic as bullies in most movies, making them slightly more realistic than usual, which makes those parts a little uncomfortable for anybody who was ever bullied in school . But I digress. The point is, we’ve seen all of these characters before, but I guess that’s to be expected in a movie for kids.

The main plot concerns Jesse, a boy with advanced artistic skills who is misunderstood - to put it lightly - at school who meets the new kid in town: Leslie, a tomboy with just as much imagination as the protagonist but apparently without the drawing skills. Her art appears to be in writing. At one point I thought they would be a good children’s book tandem - she writes them and he illustrates them - and I thought perhaps that’s where the story was headed (that turned out not to be the case, disappointingly). Both appear to be around 10-12 but I don’t recall their actual age being announced at any point.

Leslie shows the boy Terabithia, basically; the requirements to see it are finding a secret place in the woods, swinging on a rope across a creek, and having a very active imagination. Again, whether this place is actually supposed to be real or not, that’s up to you. The fantastical characters are all representations of other characters in the story, mostly other students at the school. The minions of the “Dark Master” - think of the flying monkies from the Wizard of Oz and you’re almost there - resemble the bullies at school somewhat and say some of the things the bullies like to say when they torment their victims. The giant troll turns out to be representative of the big female bully at the school, Janice Avery, whom Leslie has to deal with on a daily basis. But the troll turns out to be good after Janice softens up after a mostly unremarkable plot twist where Leslie discovers the bully crying in a bathroom and consoles and subsequently befriends her.

But anyway Jesse and Leslie spend a great deal of time in this magical land, escaping the pains and doldrums of everyday school life, swinging across that creek after almost every school day. They are the self-declared rulers of this world, the boy the king and the girl - well... guess. It’s pure escapism, like the fantasy worlds a lot of children go to when they play, like worlds we’ve all dabbled in at least a little bit when we were that age.

Real life interferes and intervenes, though, with Jesse having a crush on a hot teacher, Ms. Edmonds (and trust me, he has good taste, as teach was played by the uber hot Zooey Deschanel, sister of Emily Deschanel who plays Bones) and dealing with his sisters, in particular his younger sibling who is always begging to go play with him and his friend. His older sisters, I should mention, barely have any lines or screen time and aren’t much more than set pieces. There’s a fun scene where Jesse paints a room with Leslie and her parents, the enlightened parents I mentioned previously. And then later something Bad happens. I saw it coming. Well, I knew something like that was going to happen. It’s just that type of story, A Separate Peace-esque, if you will, that we’ve read before, which is why I figured some tragedy was coming down the pike.

For fear of giving something away, this is where I will wind down this review. It ends typically, with life lessons learned, tears wiped away, etc. And Jesse’s little sister does get to see Terabithia after her brother builds a bridge to it (hence the title) after displaying some carpentry skills that I doubt most 30-year-olds have. The bottom line: kids will like it, maybe even love it, and adults I think will find some of it interesting and not much too terribly much having to watch it with their children. Grading on a curve, mind you, I give it three out of five stars.

I read this book in the fifth grade. The braille copy was about five times as thick as the printed one, so I had to store it on a special shelf. We read it in turns, paragraph by paragraph. Unfortunately I was quicker at reading than some of my sighted counterparts, so I was usually ten or more braille pages ahead.

The book itself was sweet, I would almost say sorrowfully sweet, and all things considered I liked it. I haven't read it in seven or eight years, but that doesn't mean I won't. I do remember loving the perspective from Teribithia, somehow always fascinated by the religious aspect, since I at the time was a budding Wiccan and deeply concerned with matters of different faiths.
We did at one point have to act out one of the scenes, and I vaguely remember holding the heavy brailled volume balanced on one hand, my right index finger trailing across the words in an awkward dance of slipping innocence.

I should grab that book on audio sometime and take a listen.

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