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Bridge to Terabithia

by Katherine Paterson

The Book Club Novel Guide outlines a complete theme-based unit with Book Club lesson plans focusing on Bridge to Terabithia.

Buy the Novel Buy the Book Club Novel Guide

Below you will find a synopsis, further reading materials, discussion topics, and reviews that you might find useful during your teaching of Bridge to Terabithia.

A Synopsis

Ten-year-old Jesse Aarons lives in rural Virginia. He loves to draw and dreams of becoming an artist. However, his talent is one that his parents and four sisters do not appreciate. The only person who encourages him is his music teacher, Miss Edmunds. Then he meets Leslie Burke, the new girl at school, and his life changes. Jess, who feels like a misfit in his family, and Leslie, who is considered an oddball at their school, become friends.

Jess and Leslie spend much of their time together in Terabithia, an imaginary kingdom invented by Leslie. Terabithia is also a real place, a secret hideout that they reach by swinging on a rope across a dry creek bed. Completely at ease with Leslie, Jess comes to think of her as “his other, more exciting self—his way to Terabithia and all the worlds beyond.”

When spring rains flood the creek, Jess feels fearful about crossing to Terabithia. Embarrassed by his fear, he is diverted by an offer from Miss Edmunds to spend the day visiting museums in Washington, D.C., Jess happily spends the day looking at paintings and artifacts with his teacher. When he returns home, his family gives him the news that Leslie has drowned in the creek. At first Jess feels that he’ll never recover from the loss of his friend, but eventually he comes to realize that Leslie has left him a legacy of both vision and strength. He builds a bridge over the creek and invites his younger sister to visit Terabithia. He is ready to face his fears, embrace his talents, and share the magic that he and Leslie created together.

Further Reading and Links

The following sites can be used to support and enrich the Book Club unit for Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.

About the Author and the Book

  • Official Katherine Paterson Website — Besides a biography and a Question/Answer section, this site provides brief summaries of Bridge to Terabithia and Paterson's other books.
  • Katherine Paterson biography — A biography is given by Penguin. The site also features a list of her books.
  • Reading Rockets — This site provides interviews with Katherine Paterson, in which she talks about her life, her up bringing, and being a writer.
  • Ask the Author — A statement by Katherine Paterson is included, plus frequently asked questions and answers.
  • Bridge to Terabithia — A review by a student. Your students can submit their own reviews to the KidLit site; click here for info.
  • Common Sense Media — This review of the book gives it 5 out of 5 stars. You can read details and user reviews about the book.

Setting of the Novel

  • Virginia — The Infoplease website has compiled quick facts about Virginia including where the state's name came from.
  • Washington, D.C. — Lonely Planet's website provides facts and maps about the capital of the United States.
  • National Gallery of Art — Check out the museum Jesse visits with his teacher in Washington D.C.

Related Reading and Media

  • Friendship — The website "Child and Youth Health" explains what friendship is. The site is built to engage children and is written in terms that all age groups understand.
  • Explaining Death in a Child's Term — The site "Kids Health" provides this article on how to talk to a child about death.
  • Sparknotes — The site includes study questions, a vocabulary study page, and a final test.
  • In the Movies — In 2007, Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media released Bridge to Terabithia as a movie.
  • Rabbit Ears Entertainment — This site features a variety of award-winning stories and folk tales that students can view and listen to online. Some of the folk tales are told in dialect and can support the lesson on dialect found in the novel guide.

Big Theme Questions

Why are close friendships important? How do friends behave with each other? What special understanding do friends have?

In what ways are you like and unlike the other members of your family? How would you describe your true self?

How do family members support each other? What tensions can develop in families?

What emotions do people feel after the death of a loved one? What are some ways that people cope with death?

Outline of Lesson Plan | Discussion Topics | Writing Prompts

The following section can be used to get discussions started in your classroom. It is based on the Lesson Plan within the Book Club Novel Guide for Bridge to Terabithia. The Lesson Plan includes blackline masters for the students that support the writing prompts. The writing prompts provided are meant as suggestions only. As students become more comfortable with the Book Club format, they will certainly have ideas and questions that go beyond the prompts. Consider giving students “free choice” as a log option. Book Club Reading Logs help students respond to literature and organize ideas as they participate in Book Club.


Chapter 1 | Literary Elements: Discussing the Book’s Title

  • Describe the members of Jess’s family. How does Jess view them?
  • How does Jess feel about running? Why does he think it is important to practice?

Chapter 2 | Comprehension: Vocabulary

  • Write about the words you explored in Chapter 2.
  • Describe Jess’s special talent. What do other people think of his talent?
  • Describe Miss Edmunds. Why do you think Miss Edmunds encourages Jess to keep drawing? What words does she use to tell Jess that he is talented?
  • How does Jess feel about his father?

Chapter 3 | Literary Elements: Use of Dialogue and Dialect

  • What do you think the town of Lark Creek is like? Where might it be? Support your answers with details or dialogue from the novel.
  • Write about how the students in Jess’s class respond to Leslie.
  • Use interesting words from the book in a description of Lark Creek.

Chapter 4 | Comprehension: Exploring the Concept of Kingdoms

  • Draw or describe Terabithia. Use specific details provided by the author in the text.
  • Explore a concept from the assigned reading through a word web.
  • Why does Jess feel his friendship with Leslie is special? Describe a special friendship from your own life.

Chapter 5 | Literary Elements: Chapter Titles

  • Write about an aspect of the author’s craft exhibited in Bridge to Terabithia. (You might write about the author’s choice of chapter titles or focus on another example of the author’s craft in the story.)
  • Why didn’t May Belle take Jess’s advice about the Twinkies?
  • Explain why Jess feels sorry for Janice Avery.

Chapter 6 | Response to Literature: Making Connections to Your Life

  • Write about a special time with your family. It might be a holiday or some other event.
  • Discuss the gifts that are given and received in this chapter. What do they reveal about the characters and their relationships?

Chapter 7 | Literary Elements: Characterization

  • Create a character map for Leslie or Bill and Judy Burke using details the author provides in the book.
  • How does Jess feel when he is helping Bill and Leslie with the golden room? Why?
  • Add to the drawing or description of Terabithia that you started while reading Chapter 4.

Chapter 8 | Comprehension: Making Connections to Characters

  • Compare and contrast Jess’s life to your own. Add ideas to the classroom discussion.
  • Add to your character maps.
  • Create a flowchart to explain a process in your own life, such as doing a chore.

Chapter 9 | Language Conventions: Fluency Review

  • Think about the way Jess and Leslie talk when they are in Terabithia. Why do they talk this way? How did the language sound as you read it with a partner?
  • Reread the last paragraph of the chapter. Have you ever felt the way Jess does here?
  • Explain the significance of the chapter title.

Chapter 10 | Response to Literature: Ways of Reflecting on Reading

  • What is a perfect day for you? Describe it in detail. What makes it so perfect?
  • Write about Jess’s fear of crossing to Terabithia. Why can’t he tell Leslie about his fear even though they are good friends?

Chapter 11 | Response to Literature: Discussion of Death

  • Why do authors choose to write about death?
  • What are some emotions that Jess feels as he responds to Leslie’s death? How does his family treat him at this time?
  • Describe how the death of someone or something you cared about affected you.

Chapter 12 | Literary Elements: Point of View

  • Explore events in the story from the point of view of a character other than Jess.
  • Note other details about Jess’s response to Leslie’s death on your Ways of Experiencing Grief chart.

Chapter 13 | Response to Literature: Ways of Experiencing Grief

  • Write about Jess’s feelings or your feelings about the events in this chapter.
  • Analyze the character of Jess. What are his strengths and weaknesses? How does his friendship with Leslie change his life?
  • Analyze the grief process that Jess goes through. Give examples from the book to support your thoughts.
  • Compare and contrast the two families in the novel. How can families can be a source of pride and support as well as a source of tension or embarrassment?

Planet Book Club's Review

We would like to introduce Planet Book Club's student book reviewers: Phoebe and Charles.

Note to Our Readers: You will notice that the book gets two reviewers. Why? Because we believe two opinions are generally more helpful than one opinion. Remember that people have completely unique sets of experiences that shape how they think and feel about things. Something else to keep in mind: Even perfectly pleasant human beings can have cranky days, lazy days, and confused days. Let's face it—we can't be thoughtful, clear-headed, and fair every moment of our lives. Our reviewers, though friendly and occasionally brilliant, are only human. So, to be fair to you and to each book, we always give two points of view. That way, if one reviewer is having a bad day and seems completely out to lunch, you can perhaps connect with the other reviewer. Got it? Good.

Knowing something about the reviewers might help you to understand their opinions. So, let's get to know them:

Planet Book Club Reviewer Charles

Hey—this is Charles. I like to write poetry, play football, play drums, and cook. I'm really good at making spaghetti sauce. My goal is to be a famous author and chef someday and get invited to give talks and speeches all over the country. I would really like to read one of my poems at a presidential inauguration. I would also like to write a book that combines recipes, poetry, and short stories. That's what I have to say about Bridge to Terabithia...

Charles: When I started reading Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, I thought it was going to be just another drippy book about friendship. Well, that's like calling the Grand Canyon a great big ditch or the Statue of Liberty a hunk of copper shaped like a woman posing with a torch. OK—I'm being dramatic. What I mean is, Paterson's book is about a special friendship, but it is also about so much more. The main characters, Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke, are kind and interesting kids who would be fun to get to know. Once you meet them, it is hard not to be affected by their emotional story.

The unlikely friendship between Jess and Leslie begins at school after they compete against each other in a school race. They are drawn together as friends because they both feel "different," and they come to respect and support each other's unique talents. Together they create an imaginary kingdom in the woods, called Terabithia. In Terabithia, where Jess is King and Leslie is Queen, they feel strong and free. They talk, share ideas, and have a lot of fun. For the first time, Jess dares to feel good about himself. Terabithia might remind you of a favorite place in your own life—a place where you feel safe and free to be who you are.

On one rainy spring day, life in Terabithia changes forever. Suddenly, Jess plunges into one of the most difficult experiences of his life. In order to survive, he is forced to think about the true meaning of Terabithia and his relationship with Leslie. By the end of the novel Jess is still struggling. However, drawing strength from his friendship with Leslie, he gains a little more understanding and a little more hope. Hopefully you will feel this understanding and hope as well. Paterson's novel tackles some tough subjects that might make you feel sad and angry at times, but, don't worry, its ending is warm and encouraging. This is a book many readers never forget!

Planet Book Club Reviewer Phoebe

Greetings. This is Phoebe. My sign is Leo, my personal planet is Jupiter, my favorite color is purple, my lucky number is 3, and I was born in the year of the dragon. In my free time I work with white socks—decorating them and selling them to friends and family. I also like to sit beside the cool rock fountain I got at the mall last year and listen to music. I love English, math, and art and hope to be a massage therapist or a clothing designer one day. Here is what I think about the book...

Phoebe: Who isn't grateful for another good travel guide? Bridge to Terabithia is one of the most informative ones I've ever had on my shelf. Don't head to Terabithia without it. Like most guides, it will tell you where to dine, shop for souvenirs, find lodging, and locate public restrooms when you're out and about in Terabithia. Katherine Paterson is brilliant to write a guide to a lesser-known community. I mean, how many more guides to New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington D.C., do we need? I would call Paterson a genius if she would continue the series with titles such as Bridge to Belchertown, Bridge to Dewey; or Bridge to Bisbee. We could all benefit from exploring different corners of the country. To say any more about this fine publication would be to take away from it. Read it before you get on that plane to Terabithia. I know I will.