There is a genre of children’s literature in which young heroes discover – or create – a fantasy world in order to deal with their real-life issues. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis could be among the most renowned. But for others, the 1977 novel by author Katherine Paterson Bridge to Terabithia is the ultimate escape in escape fiction.
In an effort to avoid the realities of fifth grade in their rural Virginia community, best friends Jesse Aarons and Leslie Burke head to Terabithia, an enchanted world deep in the forest and conjured by Leslie. The experience not only deepens their friendship, but prepares them for an unexpected tragedy to come, a tragedy that still surprises readers to this day. (Spoilers will follow.)
To know more Bridge to Terabithia, including Paterson’s inspiration and his status as a living legend, keep reading.
1. Before Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson wanted to be a missionary in China.
Paterson’s path to becoming an author has taken many turns. She was born in 1932 in China, where her parents were missionaries. The family was forced to return to the United States during World War II, eventually ending up in Winchester, Virginia. Paterson attended King University (then King College) in Tennessee and taught for a year at a rural school in Virginia, where she once said that many of her students were as irrepressible as Jesse Aarons.
After graduation, Paterson wanted to go to China, but in 1957 the borders were closed. She traveled to Japan to teach, returned to the United States after four years, and met and married a Presbyterian pastor in 1962. The church wanted program ideas from Paterson, so she began to write and write. ‘never stopped. Historical novels about Japan were followed by his young adult fiction like The great Gilly Hopkins (1978) and Bridge to Terabithia.
2. Bridge to Terabithia was inspired by Katherine Paterson’s son.
When Paterson’s son David was just 8 years old, he had a best friend named Lisa Hill. The two frequently hung out near a creek bed in Takoma Park, Maryland. Tragically, Lisa passed away after being struck by lightning. Watching his son try to cope with grief, loss and the unpredictable nature of life gave Paterson the idea of Bridge to Terabithia, in which friends Jesse Aarons and Leslie Burke have a strong bond before either of them experiences an untimely end. (David later wrote the film adaptation of the novel in 2007.) A maple tree was planted in 2005 near their elementary school in Hill’s honor.
3. Katherine Paterson thought Bridge to Terabithia would be “too personal” to be successful.
Although the novel meant a lot to Paterson personally, she didn’t feel like it would resonate with the rest of the world. “I thought it was such a private book that my publisher probably wouldn’t want to publish it; and if he wanted to publish it, I thought no one would read it; and if they read it, [I thought] nobody would understand it, ”she said. Christianity today in 2007. “I was shocked to find that teachers read it aloud in schools. It just seemed like a very, very private and personal story.
4. Bridge to Terabithia is a very controversial book.
The highlight of Bridge to Terabithia– in which Leslie dies swinging from a tree to cross the creek bed and enter Terabithia – is what Paterson once called an “emotional practice” for mourning in life. But he’s also ruthless enough to have drawn criticism over the years. The book often lands on the American Library Association’s list of banned library books and was ranked ninth in the top 100 on the list between 1990 and 2000.
5. Bridge to Terabithia has been adapted twice.
While you may be more familiar with the 2007 film starring Josh Hutcherson (2012’s The hunger Games) and AnnaSophia Robb (2011 Soul surfer), there was actually a TV version of Bridge to Terabithia produced in 1985 for PBS. Julian Coutts and Julie Beaulieu performed together; Annette O’Toole played the role of teacher Mrs. Edmunds.
6. Katherine Paterson is a Certified Living Legend.
Paterson’s accolades for his work have been considerable. She won two Newbery Medals and a Newbery Honorary Award, two National Book Awards, the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2000. The award, which recognizes creative contributions to life American, also recognized Judy Blume, Maurice Sendak and Steven Spielberg, among others.