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Bridge to Terabithia | Study Guide

Katherine Paterson

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Course Hero. "Bridge to Terabithia Study Guide." Course Hero. 11 May 2017. Web. 5 June 2023. <>.

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Course Hero. "Bridge to Terabithia Study Guide." May 11, 2017. Accessed June 5, 2023.


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Bridge to Terabithia | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Jesse Oliver Aarons Jr., an artistic 10-year-old, lives in the rural town of Lark Creek, Virginia, not far from Washington, D.C. It is the mid-1970s; the Vietnam War is over, and hippie culture has spread across the country. Summer is ending, school is about to begin, and Jess has one ambition: to be the fastest runner in fifth grade. He has been training all summer in the cow pasture and is ready to take on the other boys in his class.

Then a new girl moves in next door and changes Jess's life. Leslie Burke is imaginative, confident, and nonconforming—an instant outsider in Jess's fifth-grade class. Rather than play hopscotch with the girls, she joins the races with the boys and repeatedly beats them all, dashing Jess's dreams of glory. Despite his disappointment, Jess can't help but admire her natural running skill and her spunk. In music class, the one class he enjoys, he decides to become friends with Leslie. They bond quickly and create a secret, magical kingdom called Terabithia in the woods near their homes, inspired by the sovereign island-nation of Terebinthia in C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. To reach Terabithia they must swing across a creek on an old rope that hangs from a tree. The two declare themselves king and queen of Terabithia, much like the royal characters that populate Lewis's novels, and they spend countless hours there reading books, discussing life, and combating imaginary foes.

Not all of their foes are imaginary, however. School bully Janice Avery picks on Jess's younger sister May Belle, who begs Jess and Leslie to take revenge on her behalf. Jess and Leslie pen a fake love letter to Janice from Willard Hughes, on whom many seventh-grade girls have crushes, asking her to walk home with him after school. Falling for the ruse, Janice does not get on the school bus and waits for Willard. He never shows up, and Janice walks home alone. Soon the whole school knows about the event, and Janice is humiliated, much to May Belle's delight. Yet even though Janice may deserve a comedown, Jess feels sorry for her. Later in the story Leslie finds Janice crying in the bathroom, and Jess encourages Leslie to try to help. As it turns out, Janice's life is no picnic. Her father beats her, and her best friends betray her by telling others about her miserable home life. Leslie listens sympathetically to Janice's story, and the two become somewhat friendlier.

At Christmas Leslie gives Jess art supplies because he loves to draw but can't afford to buy paints and paper. With no money, Jess is at a loss as to what to give Leslie, for she seems to have everything. But he comes upon something she doesn't have, loves immediately, and costs him no money: a puppy that is being given away. She names the dog Prince Terrien, another nod to the royalty of Lewis's Narnia, and from then on he accompanies the two on their outings to Terabithia. However, these are put on hold when Leslie's father, Bill, starts doing repairs around the house and needs Leslie's help. Jess pitches in to help the Burkes and begins spending time with Leslie's unusual, broad-minded parents: writers who have moved to impoverished Lark Creek to write and farm, leaving behind a comfortable, yet conventional, life in the suburbs. It's hard for Jess to understand this choice, especially when his own family is barely scraping by. Nonetheless, the Burkes—who choose not to own a television set—open new worlds for Jess as they tell stories, play music, enjoy poetry, and talk about world events.

Jess has a further opportunity to expand his horizons through his beloved hippie music teacher, Miss Edmunds. Seeing Jess's talent, she has encouraged him to keep up with his artwork and invites him to go to an art museum in Washington, D.C. Jess has one of the most incredible days of his life, seeing real paintings for the first time in his life, but his joy ends as he returns home. His family is gathered together in silence. Jess learns Leslie has drowned; the rope over the creek broke as she tried to swing across, and she is dead. Jess sinks into denial and anger but eventually comes to terms with her death. At the end of the story Jess builds a sturdy bridge across the creek and invites his sister May Belle into the magical world of Terabithia.

Bridge to Terabithia Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Jess trains hard to be the fastest runner in fifth grade.

Rising Action

2 Jess meets Leslie, who beats all the boys in a footrace.

3 Jess and Leslie become friends and create Terabithia.

4 Jess and Leslie get revenge on school bully Janice Avery.

5 Jess gives Leslie a puppy, and she gives him art supplies.

6 Jess helps Leslie and Bill paint the Golden Room.

7 Leslie finds Janice Avery crying and befriends her.

8 Leslie goes to church for Easter with the Aarons family.

9 Heavy rains fall, making Jess afraid to go to Terabithia.

10 Jess has a perfect day in Washington with Miss Edmunds.


11 Leslie drowns crossing the swollen stream to Terabithia.

Falling Action

12 Jess denies Leslie's death until he visits her home.

13 Jess makes a funeral wreath for Leslie in Terabithia.

14 The Burkes move, leaving Leslie's books and paints to Jess.


15 Jess makes a bridge to Terabithia and names May Belle queen.

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