Saturday, May 9, 2015

Book Review: Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia
By Katherine Paterson
HarperCollins, 1977
Reviewed from eBook
Audience: Grades 4-6
ISBN:  9780690013597
Publication Date:  October 21, 1977

Jess is a quiet kid in a family of loud girls and the boisterous boys at school are sometimes too much for him too.  He loves to draw, and loves music class every Friday with Miss Edmunds so he doesn't always fit in, but he tries not to stick out either.  Then Leslie moves in next door.  She's very different from the girls in his family and at his school.  Quickly she becomes the fastest runner in 5th grade, she only wears jeans, and her family doesn't have a TV.  She has a big imagination and quickly becomes friends with Jess.  The two build a fort in the woods known to them as Terabithia and there they imagine that they are a king and queen fighting off evil and protecting Terabithia, while still being perfectly normal kids at school and at home.  Their friendship grows, but is cut short by a terrible accident, and Jess must decide the fate of Terabithia. 

Spoilers ahead!

I never read this book as a child.  I think I was too busy reading Basil of Baker Street for the 9th time.    I think I missed out on most of the poignant books of my time, like Shiloh, Charlotte's Web, and Where the Red Fern Grows.  I just skipped them all.  What were they teaching me in school?  At least I remember Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, otherwise I would think my entire elementary education was a waste!

Moving right along.  Important items of note:  1.) This is not a fantasy.  Remember that terrible movie version of this a couple years ago?  No actual monsters were ever in this book.  It's about actual imagination.  Just going to a place and making up a story and living it out.  Which is something I entirely hope Ali can experience when she gets older.  2.) Leslie dies.  I knew this going in, so the whole time I'm trying to guess how.  Does she have some mysterious hiccuping disease?  Does she catch her death a cold because she was out in the rain?  (This seems to happen all the time in literature).  I didn't see it coming that she died on the rope swing.  That came out of left field for me.  

Overall impression:  good.  Paterson's writing is obviously beautiful, she's won numerous awards and her books are non overlong, but quite readable.  This plot was realistic for the time, although I wonder how many children will be able to relate to this type of rural environment, which was similar to how I felt about Shiloh.  Even though it's not, this book now strikes me as historic fiction because the time period and place are just so different from what children experience now.

The take away for me was the power of imagination and friendship.  Jess had a vivid imagination in his drawing, but he wasn't sure how to translate that to real like and that is what Leslie taught him.  That and how to be a good friend.  I hope this lesson is passed along to children today.  All it takes to have a wonderful time is a quiet place in the park and a bright imagination.  You can put yourself in a castle, a pirate ship, a space shuttle, anything just by pretending.

While I wasn't crying at the end of this book, I know that my 10 year old self would have been bawling.  That's a big bomb to drop on a child, but perhaps a necessary one.  Children are capable of understanding this type of occurrence and a book can help heal those wounds.

I'm glad I finally read Bridge to Terabithia.  Now I guess I need to read Charlotte's Web!

Happy Reading!

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