Jess Aarons has been training all summer long to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. But when Leslie Burke moves into the farmhouse next door, Jess discovers that she’s the fastest runner in the fifth grade. Leslie is a tomboy and unlike any other girl Jess has known, and the two becomes best friends. They create their own kingdom in the woods that they name Terabithia. In Terabithia, they are king and queen. The only way Jess and Leslie can get to Terabithia is by swinging on a rope across a creek bed. One day when Jess is at the National Gallery with his favorite teacher, Leslie is killed the rope they use to swing across the creek breaks. Jess struggles with grief, but eventually decides to build a bridge to Terabithia and share the secret kingdom with his little sister.
I first read Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia in fifth or sixth grade, I believe, and I remember being devastated by Leslie’s accidental death. However, though the book was emotionally challenging for me back then (and, honestly, still is today!), I also remember really liking it. Bridge to Terabithia is a beautiful story of fantasy, true friendship, and yes, loss. It’s a classic novel that everyone tween should read as they will grown and learn from Jess’ grief.
Genre: contemporary realistic
Reading/interest level: ages 9 and up
Virginia Readers’ Choice Award
Similar titles: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry