By Alexa Dumas
“It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength.”
Imagination is one of the largest aspects of childhood. These creative and fantastical elements allow children to think outside the limitations of their world. Children’s playful and imaginative nature greatly align with Katherine Paterson’s 1977 novel “Bridge to Terabithia,” explains how children creatively deal with obstacles in their lives.
“Bridge to Terabithia” follows the friendship between Jesse Aarons and Leslie Burke, as they navigate through their lives as fifth graders. Although seemingly surface-level, Jesse takes on hefty chores on his family’s farm, while also taking care of his sisters. Leslie, on the other hand, is new to rural Virginia and wants to be seen as an equal to her male classmates.
Jesse and Leslie’s friendship begins as an unlikely match, as they appear to be opposites. Once Jesse notices that Leslie rides the bus with him and his sisters, he slowly starts to open up to her. They become friends when Leslie wants to join the footrace during recess. The only problem is that Leslie is a girl, and the boys don’t let her try. However, Jesse wants Leslie to be able to participate, so Leslie runs and gains the title of the fastest fifth grader.
These challenges can change how a child sees the world. Leslie and Jesse choose to escape from their challenges to a fantastical place called Terabithia. Although Terabithia sounds like a real magical realm, in reality, it is just a space within the woods near Jesse and Leslie’s homes.
To cross into Terabithia, the children use a rope swing to hop from one side of a small creek to the other. Mirrored like C.S. Lewis’ infamous Narnia, Terabithia is a place for the pair of friends to be themselves and create a fantastical world of their own. Jesse is a budding artist, so he creates a map of their fantasy world, while Leslie uses her storytelling skills to craft the two children into Terabithia royalty.
During one unusually rainy week, Jesse decided not to go to Terabithia with Leslie. Instead, he decided to visit Washington D.C. with his beloved art teacher. He visits a plethora of museums and wants to return home to tell Leslie of his day. This fantasy doesn’t last long, as Leslie dies unexpectedly.
When she falls off the rope and hits her head while trying to cross into Terabithia. The sudden death shocks Jesse, as he now must cope with the loss of his best friend.
Paterson’s novel was written as a way to help children cope with loss in their lives, as grief may be a foreign feeling for some. The beautiful world that Leslie and Jesse create is a happy memory for both Jesse and the reader, as remembering a loved one should contain happy memories.
Although surprising, “Bridge to Terabithia” has been banned or challenged since its publication. The tale of childhood grief has been censored due to suggestions of witchcraft, encouragement of fantasy, profanity, violence and even being anti-religious. People who want to censor “Bridge to Terabithia” seem to miss the point of the text, as they don’t understand the complexities that Paterson helps children understand.
“Bridge to Terabithia” allows children to think about grief and loss in their own lives, while also escaping from the challenges that may plague a child’s life. Paterson’s use of fantasy and imagination creates a sense of wonder for readers, which makes “Bridge to Terabithia” a timeless classic.