Study Guide

Bridge to Terabithia Themes

  • Friendship

    Friendship is the most important kind of relationship in Bridge to Terabithia: friends are the family that you get to choose for yourself. The most evolved characters – Jess, Leslie, May Belle – are the ones who are concerned with finding and making friends. And not just any friends. We're talking good friends – the kind who understand and support you, but also help you grow and continue to evolve. In the best friendships, like Jess and Leslie's, the bond they share strengthens as both people involve. They each have things to teach the other, they encourage each other, and they believe in each other. Friendship means helping people access and become open to a greater world than the one they knew before.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Why do you think so many characters in this book desire friendship so badly?
    2. Who do you think gained more from their friendship, Jess or Leslie?
    3. What kinds of lessons did Jess and Leslie's friendship teach them, and us?

    Chew on This

    Bridge to Terabithia demonstrates that friendship is the most important part of children's lives, and is key to developing imagination.

    In Bridge to Terabithia, we learn that participating in the kind of friendship that Jess and Leslie share is worth even the most devastating loss.

  • Family

    Sometimes family can be hard to relate to (pun intended). See, in his family, Jess is the odd one out – faced with his mom's figurative and dad's literal absences, and his older sisters' shallow obsession with appearances, Jess's ambition and desire to move beyond what he is marks him as different. May Belle's the only one much like Jess, but at seven years old, seems too little to be an ally or a friend. Leslie becomes his family instead. But when he loses her at the end of Bridge to Terabithia, Jess feels a responsibility to recreate and hold on to the kind of relationship he had with her. That might be one reason he reaches out to May Belle and finally invites her in to Terabithia with him.

    Questions About Family

    1. What would the challenges of having parents like Leslie's be? What are the benefits of parents like Jess's?
    2. Would you rather be an only child (like Leslie), or have many siblings (like Jess)? Why or why not?
    3. What do characters in this book owe their family members? How are they obligated to them?
    4. How do you think Jess's father really feels about him?

    Chew on This

    In comparing Mrs. Aarons and Mrs. Burke, we see that there's no such thing as a perfect mother: even the most present parents have flaws, and even the most neglectful ones have strengths.

    Jess's strained relationships with his four very different sisters show that blood isn't thicker than water: in other words, just because you're related to someone doesn't mean you understand, empathize with, or are compatible with them.

  • Courage

    Courage takes many forms in Bridge to Terabithia, whether it's standing up for girls' rights to run with the boys, crossing a rushing creek in the pouring rain, getting revenge on a bully, or comforting that bully. It's also about admitting when something scares you, knowing when to wait instead of fight, and learning that acknowledging or facing your fear is just as brave as not feeling fear in the first place. There are always going to be scary events and encounters, but what matters is how you treat others, not how strong or weak you might feel inside.

    Questions About Courage

    1. What's the most courageous thing Jess does, and why?
    2. Who do you think is braver, Jess or Leslie?
    3. Who is the book's most cowardly character? Why do you think so?
    4. At one point, Jess worries that he was born "with no guts" (9.67); that is, with no courage. Is courage something you're born with or without? Discuss.

    Chew on This

    Ultimately, through examining his relationship with Leslie, Jess realizes that he's more courageous than he ever realized.

    Through his experiences in Terabithia, Jess discovers that even the bravest people can be motivated by fear, and sometimes the most fearful people act most bravely.

  • Contrasting Regions: Lark Creek and Terabithia

    Terabithia exists inside Lark Creek – it's brought to life within the bounds of the boring, the stifling, and the ordinary. What's amazing is how living and being inside Terabithia allows characters like Jess and Leslie to take its magical properties with them into that other, seemingly boring, straightforward world. This happens in moments like when Jess finds the same peace in the National Gallery as he does in the sacred grove, or when the two decide to help, not harm, Janice Avery. They learn that, even in the darkest moments, kindness, love, and grace can be found anywhere.

    Questions About Contrasting Regions: Lark Creek and Terabithia

    1. Can characters find Terabithia beyond the border of the creek bed, in Lark Creek itself? If so, where?
    2. Ultimately, which region is more dangerous, Lark Creek or Terabithia?
    3. What is the most magical thing about Terabithia?

    Chew on This

    Present-day children are so consumed by elaborate toys and technology that they don't have the capability to create a magical world like Terabithia for themselves. (If you disagree, how about arguing for the other side?)

    Without the dullness and lack of excitement or energy in Lark Creek, the invention of Terabithia wouldn't have been possible.

  • Innocence

    Innocence takes many forms in Bridge to Terabithia. Jess's mom doesn't know how to use correct grammar, and she believes her daughter when Ellie tells her that her dad promised her some money. Leslie doesn't realize that not having a TV is the mark of an ostracized outsider. Jess doesn't know the "stories" of Moby Dick or Hamlet. But while some characters, like Ellie and Brenda, think they already know everything and are experienced, that's not really true. Because Jess acknowledges his limitations and what he doesn't know, he's able to fill in the gaps. He can appreciate the beautiful and the unusual, like the art in the museum. Most of all, he's able to appreciate Leslie.

    Questions About Innocence

    1. Who is the most innocent character in the book? Why?
    2. In Bridge to Terabithia, is innocence or experience more valued?
    3. Do you think it will be possible for a grown-up Jess to return to Terabithia?

    Chew on This

    The more obviously "experienced" characters in the book – Ellie, Brenda, and Janice – don't have as much maturity or intelligence as the supposedly "innocent" characters like Jess and Leslie.

    Both Leslie and Jess's parents are equally innocent in different ways – Leslie's because they live in an abstract, artistic world and Jess's because they can't conceive of that world.

  • Transformation

    Where does the power of transformation come – from the inside or the outside? In Bridge to Terabithia, it's both. Through their friendship, both Jess and Leslie are changed for the better. Jess becomes more imaginative, and Leslie becomes more compassionate. They each teach the other about becoming a better person. But becoming a better person also comes from within. In teaching Leslie compassion, Jess strengthens his own capability for it, and in leading Jess into Terabithia, Leslie expands the boundaries of that realm for herself. They learn to see other people as their friend sees them, and make a more ordinary kind of transformative magic for themselves by imagining Terabithia.

    Questions About Transformation

    1. Who changes the most over the course of the book?
    2. Does Jess have as big an effect on Leslie as she does on him?
    3. Do you think Jess will become as great and inspiring a force in May Belle's life as Leslie was in his?

    Chew on This

    Without Leslie appearing in his life, Jess might have become the fastest runner in fifth grade, but he wouldn't have learned nearly as much about courage, imagination, and a potential larger world.

    Through her encounters with Jess, Leslie also learns about the complexities of the world outside Terabithia and how, in order to be truly good, it's necessary to find compassion for even the scariest enemy.

  • Society and Class

    In Bridge to Terabithia we see the social class distinctions and the distinctions between the fifth graders (and even younger kids) and the seventh graders. Just as Jess and Leslie's parents are separated by how much money and education they have (the former, very little; the latter, quite a bit), students at school are divided by even firmer, unspoken class distinctions. The older students get all the resources and get to abuse the younger students. The younger students have to take care of, and amuse, themselves. But maybe if they'd been given more resources, Jess and Leslie might have been less inspired to create Terabithia.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Which character is the most out-of-place, and why?
    2. Leslie is ostracized – big word alert for not liked or accepted – because her family doesn't have a TV. What lack would create the same effect in our society today?
    3. Are you glad you get to wear pants? What do your clothing choices say about you?
    4. Which is worse, the class divisions among the adults, or the ones between the fifth and seventh graders?

    Chew on This

    In Bridge to Terabithia, we see that money can provide education, ability, and opportunity, but even it can't prevent tragedy or protect us from being different from others.

    The five Aarons children's varying attitudes prove that nature is stronger than nurture – they all have the same background and disadvantages, but only Jess and May Belle make attempts to rise above it.

  • Ambition

    Ultimately, ambition in Bridge to Terabithia is about being greater than yourself, or pushing past the bounds of your mind and heart. At the beginning of Bridge to Terabithia, we think ambition is about running the fastest or drawing the best. And it can be. But it's also about challenging yourself, and others, to enlarge the scope of your world and imagination, and to live the best way you can – sharing the joy of this expansion the way it was shared with you. By the book's end, Jess hopes that he can do his best to live the kind of life Leslie would have lived, as well as the kind of life she would have liked him to live.

    Questions About Ambition

    1. What is Jess's deepest ambition?
    2. Who's the most ambitious character, and at whom does he/she direct his/her ambition?
    3. In Bridge to Terabithia, is ambition a positive or negative quality?
    4. What type of person do you think Leslie wanted to be when she grew up?

    Chew on This

    Although Leslie prevents Jess from achieving his short-term ambition of being the fastest runner at school, she reawakens another desire for artistry, imagination, and growth.

    While Miss Edmunds and Leslie have different ideas and approaches, they both want to see Jess succeed in the same way.