Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson starts out with Jess Aarons practicing for school recess races, but ends up being mostly about friendship. Everything else is gravy. And, to throw in another food metaphor, like a hearty stew there is a whole lot of everything else. Katherine Paterson has included most everything I’d expect to find in a book for young people.
There are friends. Winning that first race after the start of school is the biggest thing Jess thinks about; not the new neighbors at the Perkins place. Even when one of those neighbors turns out to be his age, he remains uninterested. After all, the neighbor is a girl. Leslie also unfortunately isn’t the right size for his younger sister May Belle. Moreover, she turns out to be a competitor. She joins the recess races, something that the boys dislike but don’t know how to stop. For a while, Jess even outright avoids Leslie because, thanks to her, one of the few highlights of school is no longer any fun. Then one day he sees Leslie being teased, his protective instinct kicks in, and his entire world changes. At this point in the book, the story becomes about their friendship.
There are bullies. Gary Fulcher doesn’t show any respect for other people’s property. In his free time at school, Jess likes to grab notebook paper and draw. Gary makes it his business to try to see these sketches, the way certain boys in my sixth-grade class made it their mission to steal notes from their peers. Notice I pluralized bully. Gary is an ant compared to Janice Avery and her two friends. In typical bully fashion, they make little kids give them their food. They also snatch hopscotch rocks, run through jump ropes, and laugh when kids screamed. While no one ever stole my food in elementary school, I did avoid walking home alone in fifth grade for fear of being beaten up. It doesn’t take too many experiences to learn that there are bullies in the world. Unlike Jess, I never tried standing up to mine until I had become an adult.
There are sisters. By having four, Jess has too many of them. The older two remain cliché teenagers for whom whining, shopping, dating, and bossing their younger siblings are the norm. The younger May Belle and Joyce Ann, however, inspire some of the sweeter moments in Bridge to Terabithia. On the very first morning that we meet Jess, May Bell wakes up and asks him: “Where are you going?” In response, Jess “patted her hair and yanked a twisted sheet up to her small chin.” One might wonder why Paterson bestows Jess with four sisters, when the heart of the book is his friendship with Leslie. Part of the beautiful complexity of Bridge to Terabithia is its multiple layers, including the relationship between Jess and May Bell, which eventually helps Jess nudge May Bell towards a friendship with her younger sister.
There are also parents, teachers, animals, holidays, imaginary worlds, and even a discussion of faith. Those were all an important part of my world too; like Jess, I had a crush on a teacher, made up stories with my friends, and wondered about God. Every character, detail, and incident in Bridge to Terabithia is so true to life, many readers will identify.
Have I given any too much of the plot? No, for there is the still the question of how Jess stands up to the bullies. You might wonder too about whether he ever does anything about his crush on his teacher. Then there is that pretend world that Leslie and Jess create, after which the book is named. Most important, there is how their friendship unfolds. I have deliberately left out those details, for you should encounter them for yourself by reading Bridge to Terabithia. If you haven’t read the Paterson’s book yet, there is so much to discover and love. If you have, then you know it is like looking back through a treasured vacation album.
In slightly over one hundred pages, Katherine Paterson has created a patchwork quilt wherein each square reveals a little more about family, school, friends, religion, and all those important areas of life. We might sometimes experience them differently than Jess, but they were part of our childhood and have become part of our adulthood. Bridge to Terabithia has everything that I might expect to find in a book for young people, but it also has everything that adults can relate to. It’s the perfect book.
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
Américas Award for Children’s & Young Adult Literature
CLASP founded the Américas Award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States.
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. It was established by in 1936, in memory of the great Scottish-born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.
The Christy Awards are awarded each year to recognize novels of excellence written from a Christian worldview.
Coretta Scott King Award
The Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples. It is given to African American authors and illustrator.
children and young adult blogger literacy awards
Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award
The Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award was initiated in 2000 to recognize authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that appropriately portray individuals with deve
Hans Christian Anderson Award
The Hans Christian Andersen Awards is given to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature. The award is the highest international recognition an author can receive.
Kate Greenaway Medal
The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It is named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her fine children’s illustrations and designs.
Middle East Book Award
The Middle East Book Award recognizes quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of the Middle East and its component societies and cultures.
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award
Honors fantasy books for younger readers, in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia
Newbery Medal Award
The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Pura Belpré Award
The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. It is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino experience.
Red House Book Award
The Red House Children’s Book Award is a series of literary prizes for works of children’s literature published during the previous year in England.
Sydney Taylor Award
The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.