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Top 100 Children’s Novels (#13)

#13 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1977)

(#1)(#1)(#1)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#3) (#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4) (#5)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#7)(#7) (#8)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#9)(#9) (#9)(#9)(#10)(#10)(#10)(#10)(#10) – 201 points

Unexpectedly sentimental and poignant. I felt older and wiser after reading it. – DeAnn Okamura

SOB. But wow, is the writing beautiful while you’re waiting to burst into tears. It’s held up over many rereads as an adult and as a child. – Jess (garish & tweed)

Because it made me cry in fifth grade, and again in high school, and again and again and again. And because even at 38, I still dream of Terabithia. If this were a list of “best books ever, regardless of genre,” Bridge to Terabithia would still top my list.Jacqui Robbins

Not because of the story itself, but because this was the first time I read a book with a literary allusion that I GOT. Paterson mentions that the main characters loved fantasy stories, including one about "assistant pig-keepers" and that phrase went through me like a shock: I KNEW that book, I had already read the Prydain Chronicles and I felt such an immediate connection to the characters in Bridge as a result. I have forgotten almost everything about Bridge except for the broadest of strokes, but I will never forget that moment of recognition. – Melissa Depper, Youth Services Librarian, Arapahoe Library District CO

The book that pushed me into the world of children and teen literature. – Ed Spicer

"The time a child needs a book about life’s dark passages is before he or she has had to experience them. We need practice with loss, rehearsal for grieving, just as we need preparation for decision making." – Katherine Paterson.

And so our National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature makes her second appearance on the list (her first coming in at #55 with The Great Gilly Hopkins).  It may interest you to know that three other Paterson titles were nominated for this Top 100 list but did not get the requisite points.  These included Jacob Have I Loved (12 points), The Master Puppeteer (6 points), and Of Nightingales That Weep (1 point).  At this point in the countdown I can start letting you know such facts, since we’re almost near the end.

The synopsis from the publisher reads, "All summer, Jess pushed himself to be the fastest boy in the fifth grade, and when the year’s first school-yard race was run, he was going to win.  But his victory was stolen by a newcomer, by a girl, one who didn’t even know enough to stay on the girls’ side of the playground. Then, unexpectedly, Jess finds himself sticking up for Leslie, for the girl who breaks rules and wins races. The friendship between the two grows as Jess guides the city girl through the pitfalls of life in their small, rural town, and Leslie draws him into the world of imaginations world of magic and ceremony called Terabithia. Here, Leslie and Jess rule supreme among the oaks and evergreens, safe from the bullies and ridicule of the mundane world. Safe until an unforeseen tragedy forces Jess to reign in Terabithia alone, and both worlds are forever changed."

How did it come about? According to Children’s Literature Review Paterson’s career started in this way: "In 1964 Paterson began her professional writing career formulating curricula for school systems. She eventually began writing fiction and, nine years later, her first novel, The Sign of the Chrysanthemum, was published in 1973. While her literary career began flourishing during the 1970s, Paterson was also faced with a number of difficult personal events, including surviving a cancerous tumor and losing her mother to cancer. During this period, her young son David lost a close friend who was tragically struck by lightning. While attending the annual meeting of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington that same year, Paterson recounted her son’s recent loss to the attendees, and Anne Durell, an editor for Dutton Publishing’s children’s literature imprint, suggested that the incident could be the basis for a children’s novel. Thus, Paterson began writing the manuscript for Bridge to Terabithia, which became a critical and popular success." Durrell, to her credit, also said to Paterson at the time, "Of course, the child can’t die by lightning. No editor would ever believe that."  True.

As Ms. Paterson said in her Newbery acceptance speech, when her son’s best friend was struck by lightning, he went through "all the classical stages of grief, inventing a few the experts have yet to catalogue. In one of these he decided that since Lisa had been good, God had not killed her for her sins but as a punishment for him, David. Moreover, God would continue to punish him by killing off everyone he loved. I was second on the list, right after his sister Mary." Years later that same child would go on to write the screenplay for the Walden Media version of the film.  David Paterson, for the record, spoke in my Children’s Literary Cafe last year about adapting his mother’s books to both the stage and the screen.

Aside from Charlotte’s Web this is THE death book for children. Charlotte at least telegraphs that she’s going to be going, and is able to talk it over with Wilbur to some extent. Leslie, in contrast, just disappears. One minute she’s there. The next, she’s gone. Hers is a shockingly realistic death. If you don’t know that it’s coming it’s completely out of the blue. But Ms. Paterson hasn’t ever been all that comfortable with putting the book on "death lists" for kids. In The Spying Heart: More Thoughts on Reading and Writing Books for Children she says, "The first time I was told that Bridge to Terabithia was ‘on our death list,’ I was a bit shaken up. There follows, you see, the feeling that if a child has a problem, a book that deals with that problem can be given to the child and the problem will be cured. As Jill Paton Walsh points out, only children’s books are used this way. ‘One does not,’ she says, ‘rush to give Anna Karenina to friends who are committing adultery, or minister to distressed old age with copies of King Lear.’ Still, if we look at life as a series of problems needing solving, it is hard not to offer nicely packaged, portable solutions, preferably paperback. I know. No one has given out more copies of Ramona the Brave to first graders in distress than I have." By this point one must assume that she is resigned to, if still not pleased about, her position on such lists.

So naturally it gets banned with frightening frequency. It ranks at #8 on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books for the decade 1990–2000. In Karen Hirsch’s Censored Books II: Critical Viewpoints, 1985-2000, she says that the reasons include, "Language: Challengers in Nebraska, Connecticut, California, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Maine have objected to what they call profanity, vulgar language, offensive language, or swear words. In the Oskaloosa, Kansas, school district a challenge ‘led to the enactment of a new policy that requires teachers to examine their required material for profanities. Teachers will list each profanity and the number of times it was used in the book, and forward the list to parents, who will be asked to give written permission of their children to read the material.’ Life views or lifestyles: Challenges in Connecticut and Pennsylvania have said that the book would ‘give students negative views of life,’ ‘make reference to witchcraft,’ show ‘disrespect of adults,’ and promote an ‘elaborate fantasy world that they felt might lead to confusion’." Someone should do a study to see how often such similar challenges are made today, now that they’ve big old Harry Potter to aim their ire at.

It won the Newbery Medal in 1978 beating out Ramona and Her Father (#89 on our list) and the now long forgotten Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey by Jamake Highwater (prove me wrong). For the record, it also won the Janusz Korczak Medal, and the Le Grand Prix des Jeunes Lecteurs.

Covers abound.  I find the range of ages of the kids particularly interesting.

Forget not, ye children, that it was adapted into a film not once but twice! First was the 1985 made for PBS movie.  There is probably a reason the film is forgotten today.  Example A:

You’d have to have a heart of stone not to find that funny.

When the more recent version of Terabithia was due out, librarians nationwide gave simultaneous screams of agony seeing the following preview. They turned it into a fantasy? What the heckety heck? As it turned out, the trailer was misleading.  Amazingly poorly made.  A preview of the film at an ALA Conference put many a mind at ease and the film turned out to be a modest success. It had been made for $20 million and grossed $137 million worldwide.  That still doesn’t excuse this trailer though:

One thing I love about this movie is the fact that much of it was filmed outdoors. Not on a soundstage with faux natural sunlight. When these kids run through a field that field is real. With all the fantasy fare out there, it’s nice to see some reality once in a while.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Yikes! If Bridge isn’t in the top ten, then what is??? All those horse stories I’ve been missing on this list?

  2. Ed Spicer says

    Bump bump bump! Another one bites the dust. Another one’s gone. Another one’s down. We are voting on the top seven, correct?

  3. I thought for sure this would make the top ten. And, I too was outraged by the movie preview. My husband, a fantasy lover who never read this book, thought the movie looked great and didn’t understand my outrage until we watched it.

  4. 13!? Oh my. I am feeling more and more clueless as to what will make the top ten. I thought Bridge was a shoo-in.

    It’s such a lovely book. I recently re-read it for the umpteenth time and cried all over again. Just beautiful writing, with grief so powerfully rendered.

    And I fully resonate with the commenter who talked about “getting” the Prydain reference. I only recently discovered Prydain as an adult, and this was the first time I’d re-read Bridge since. When I got to the assistant pig-keeper line, I too experienced that wonderful thrill. When characters love the books we love, it makes them feel like friends.

  5. Oh dear, I keep thinking I have my top ten picked out, and this was surely on it.

    I have to say, I love this book (voted for it myself), but it’s sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for my Children’s Lit class and I find myself putting it off. I haven’t read it in many years, and I’m not sure my older self will handle be able to make it through the whole thing knowing the ending. Sigh.

    Glad to hear the movie wasn’t what it looked to be–I may have to check it out after all.

  6. Mr. Grumpy says

    Never read it myself.

    That PBS clip is very, very painful… especially this early in the morning. By the way, isn’t the piano music from “The World Turns”(ugh!)? Oh sorry…the ugh was for “The World Turns”. (Don’t diss me you soap opera fans!)

    But the movie trailer is kinda cool. Looks like a cross between HP and Narnia.
    I never had any idea the book was like that. So now it’s definately on my read list. 🙂

  7. Mmmm. Good book. I am pleased.

  8. Top Ten?! This should be #1. One of the best stories ever written!

  9. I agree with other responders – this has definitely messed up my Top 10 list. Back to the drawing board!

  10. RM1(SS) (ret) says

    Read this back in ’07; enjoyed it, but checking my blog post I see I didn’t list it as one of my favourite Newberys. Certainly didn’t come to mind when I was making my top-ten list for this poll, anyway.

    I, too, love it when characters in books mention reading books I’ve read.

    And the best soap opera ever was Dark Shadows.

  11. David Ziegler says

    I too had this in the top ten, including my own. Wonderful story – happy to see it at least in the top 15.

    Dark Shadows indeed was an awesome soap opera!

  12. Genevieve says

    Love, love this book. And it holds up so well when read years later.
    The movie is surprsingly good, actually – it’s very well acted. The fantasy stuff is their dreamworld brought to life, Mr. Grumpy, so not so much like Narnia since they don’t go there for real, but it kind of feels like it to them and the movie actually does that quite well.

    Joining in on the love for characters reading books I’ve read — trying to think of other examples but coming up blank.

    I had this in the top 20, possibly top 10, so I’m not too surprised. It’s a marvelous and important book, and I’m glad it’s near the top.

  13. Thank you for Patterson’s “life’s dark passages” quote. We were having a discussion last night about kid’s and scary books, and how they are much more equipped to handle the scary, the tragic, and the disturbing than we like to admit. I also believe that facing difficult situations vicariously through reading helps children prepare for difficult moments to come. I’m not sure, however, that handing it out as a band-aid to resolve real suffering is what is needed.

    In a flagrant attempt to pad my own prediction, can all who voted chime in on The Phantom Tollboth or Tom Sawyer?

  14. Mandaladreamer says

    DaNae, I definitely had Phantom Tollbooth on my list, although I have to confess I forgot Tom Sawyer. And it should have been there. I also forgot Diamond in the Window and Mr. Mysterious and Company.
    But I remembered Anne, Mixed-up Files, Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe, Secret Garden, Wrinkle in Time….

  15. Julie Hedlund says

    Terabithia is on my top ten best books of all time. I’m shocked it’s not in the top ten. I got weepy just reading the synopsis again…

  16. KHazelrigg says

    Cannot believe this did not make the top 10. (And now I fear I am going to be infuriated by what thing might be in its rightful place.)

    That being said (and I do feel better now)…. That top cover is hideous. What is that child doing? Being held up at gunpoint while the other watches nonchalantly? Gives me the cold chills, and not in a good way. And I’m not too fond of the crotch-shot cover, either, but I do like the cover of the boy swinging across (might pull more boys into it). My favorite of all is the last one. I’ve never seen it before, but I love it.

    As per the recent movie, I was one of those horrified librarians, fearful that Hollywood was going to ruin a perfectly wonderful book. And if I recall correctly, the trailer made me furious. (And for the commenter who said it looked like a cross between Harry Potter and Narnia, um, absolutely not, there is no magic at all, just imagination.)

    But when I saw the movie in theaters, I loved it. I really thought the writers and actors did a fantastic job. It was such a relief!

  17. Melissa ZD says

    I am getting so wound up about this countdown that I have to check the list as soon as I get out of bed in the morning–can’t wait till I get to work!

    I have been challenged by a friend to submit a Top Ten guess but since I only have about three books I am POSITIVE about it is going to be an interesting task.

    PS to DaNae: Phantom was on my list but not Tom Sawyer! 🙂

  18. If I ever reach the point in my life where reading Bridge to Terabithia does NOT make me cry, I’m pretty sure that means my heart has frozen up completely. I actually reread this about a couple weeks ago and laid in my bed bawling afterward. Such a wonderful book, definitely in my top 10, but I HATED it when I had to read it in 5th grade.

    Also, Mr. Grumpy, the reason you never had any idea that the book was a cross between HP and Narnia is because it isn’t, but you should give it a shot anyways!

  19. Mr. Grumpy says

    Mandaladreamer said:

    “I remembered:
    Anne (of Green Galbles),
    Mixed-up Files,
    Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe,
    Secret Garden,
    Wrinkle in Time…”

    Well, since she’s opened up the can of worms (and hasn’t gotten pounced upon), let me add:
    Charlottes Web,
    Harry Potter Sourcers Stone,
    Harry Potter Prisoner of Albankazan,
    Diary of a Wimpy Kid,
    The Giver.

  20. Mr. Grumpy says

    To Ashley:

    Mr. Grumpy is getting into his ancient Buick to go buy the book right now.

  21. Good Luck with your Wimpy Kid, the good people at Sunset Towers will have something to say about that.

  22. Another of my top 10 predictions bites the dust! And I have actually never read this one, which is a source of great shame for my inner librarian. Haha.

  23. My Boaz's Ruth says

    MandalaDreamer: you just posted my dream list…

    Mr. Grumpy: Prisoner of Azkaban was #14.

  24. Mr. Grumpy says

    I personally don’t care for the fate of Wimpy Kid.
    But if Westing Game takes out my Hobbit–I swear–I’ll stick a Frindle in my eye!!!

  25. Mr. Grumpy says

    Re: Harry Potter.
    I know there are 3 left.
    So not HP #6…but I choose the other two that are left.

  26. My Boaz's Ruth says

    It is being VERY easy to keep track of the top 100 list when the same authors come up over and over.

    I wonder, in the end, how big a percentage of the list will be repeat authors.

    Currently, it appears 53 titles do not have repeat authors.

  27. My Boaz's Ruth says

    No. There are only 2 HP left. HP is #86, 38,35,24, and 14.

  28. Mr. Grumpy says

    OH! My bad!!!…HP#1 is my choice.
    I think that’s still left???

  29. I’m surprised that Jacob Have I Loved didn’t get more votes. It’s interesting to hear about the books that received some votes, but not enough to make the list. Maybe when you’ve gotten to number 1, you’ll post a full list of 1-100 plus a list of the other books that were named. I bet we’d all find treasures that we love on that list and maybe even discover some gems we’ve missed.

  30. Would “Jacob Have I Loved” be YA? I do know this, I have enjoyed every book I have read by KP. My find from this list was the Great Gilly Hopkins. I haven’t read them all yet so I still have some to savor.

  31. I do intend to post a full list at the end, as well as some of the books that almost made it. And then a list of everything nominated as well.

    I figure “Jacob” is either MG or YA, depending. I was willing to include it on this poll. It just didn’t get the votes, though.

  32. Re: Authors with multiple titles so far.
    (in order by titles then total points earned, or to be earned)
    J.K. Rowling 5 titles (+1 to come)
    Roald Dahl 5 titles
    Beverly Cleary 4 titles (am i the only one who voted for Dear Mr. Henshaw?)
    Kate DiCamillo 3 titles
    Laura Ingalls Wilder 3 titles
    Francis Hodgson Burnett 1 titles (+ 1 to come)
    E.L. Konigsburg 1 title (+ 1 to come)
    Louis Sachar 1 title (+ 1 to come)
    Lois Lowry 1 title (+ 1 to come)
    Jerry Spinelli 2 titles
    Judy Blume 2 titles
    Christopher Paul Curtis 2 titles
    Elizabeth Enright 2 titles
    Sharon Creech 2 titles
    Lloyd Alexander 2 titles

    by my count that is 32 titles or 36% of the list. (ignoring the authors with one as of now)
    These same authors account for 40% of the points and 40% of the votes. Amazingly they account for 1 more than 50% of the all the 1st place votes.
    HP #1, Holes, Mixed Up Files…, Secret Garden and The Giver are all still to come, will there be any other titles from already represented authors?

    EB White has yet to appear but if Stuart Little sneaks, White will be the 2 title author with the most points.

    I’m guess that in the end 41% titles will be from repeat authors.

  33. Scrumptious says

    You wrote: “the now long forgotten Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey by Jamake Highwater (prove me wrong)”

    My mom reading me Anpao when I was a kid was one of the most riveting, consuming, magical, and terrifying experiences of my life. We actually had to stop reading it for a while because I fell so hard into the story that it’s like I was caught inside it. My memories of it are all feelings and images, darkness and crow’s wings.

    Bridge to Terabithia, on the other hand, I have read three times because every time I hear people talk about how great it is, I figure I must not have read it, because I have no idea what it’s about. So I read it again. Lather, rinse, repeat. It makes absolutely no impression on me, every time!

    Different books for different folks!

  34. I knew someone somewhere could.

  35. Jennifer Schultz says

    I’m happy that you’ll post a list of everything nominated. As others stated, my list was my favorites, not the books that I thought had the highest literary quality. As such, I sent titles that will probably not appear on the list (Striped Ice Cream and Ginger Pye). However, I would love to see if others named those books.

    (I wish I would have included The Secret Language, but I remembered it after I sent the list. I don’t know what I would have eliminated, though. That list was tough to finalize!)

  36. Mandaladreamer says

    Oh, I loved The Secret Language, too. I was thrilled to make the connection between the writer and the the famous Ursula Nordstrom when I read Leonard Marcus’ book about her.
    It will be great to see ALL the books. I’m saving this whole thing for my granddaughter to read someday.

  37. Genevieve says

    Mandaladreamer and Jennifer, I liked “The Secret Language” too, though not top ten for me. And I highly enjoyed “Dear Genius,” (the Leonard Marcus collection of Nordstrom’s letters).

    Eric, I’m wondering if Wilder will sneak on again, with “The Long Winter,” which I think a lot of people would call her masterpiece. I would have expected to see it get more votes than Plum Creek, which is on the list. And it was on my list until a late revision. But I haven’t seen people talking about it on their lists, so I’m guessing it won’t make it – will be thrilled if it does. Ditto for Stuart Little.

  38. Jennifer Schultz says

    Genevieve, I’m afraid that Wilder’s books canceled each other out on my list. I have three favorites, but didn’t want LIW to take up three spaces on my list. Couldn’t decide which ones to pick (one would have been The Long Winter), so I didn’t include any, figuring that LIW probably didn’t need my help. Of course, once other people decide that, you know what happens.

    I don’t mean to pile on additional work for Betsy, but I would love to see a series list one day. I think that would be fun.

  39. Seems to me the top twelve are close to self-revealing. Here’s my guess at the last twelve, but with no idea on the order:
    A Wrinkle in Time
    Charlotte’s Web
    Phantom Tollbooth
    To Kill A Mockingbird
    Mixed Up Files
    Anne of Green Gables
    Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe
    The Hobbit
    Secret Garden
    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
    The Giver

    Unless “To Kill…” is too old, and Half Blood Prince snuck in?

  40. If you replace Mockingbird with The Westing Game you’ve got what is beginning to look like the consensus top 11…now it’s the small matter of what order they will appear.

    not too far from the top ten i predicted way back on march 9th: (insert sound of my horn tooting here)

  41. Genevieve says

    The only issue (that I see right now) being whether the kid voters’ love for Diary of a Wimpy Kid was strong enough to push one of these out. Or whether Long Winter or Stuart Little did so. Though you’d think if so, whatever got pushed out would just be lower down the list. If not, I’m kind of surprised, actually — though if the teachers said “the ten best” instead of “your ten favorite,” then I’m not as surprised. But I would’ve guessed fair numbers of kids in each of those classrooms putting Wimpy Kid on their list of favorites.

  42. Genevieve says

    Also depending on whether there’s a shocker like “Millions of Cats” in the picture book poll, lying unremembered for the commenters discussing these things, but waiting to spring!

  43. Could we really count Millions of Cats in a novel poll?

    I just recently read Jacob Have I Loved for the first time ever, and while I was absolutely wowed by it (as I have been by all Paterson), I think because of the ending I would put it firmly in YA camp. Not that I would dissuade any MGer from reading it if they wanted to.

    Recently (as in the last five years) re-read Terabithia before watching the movie. One thing that struck me was the immediacy and the complete lack of foreshadowing with which Leslie disappeared from the story. It was shocking to me, even as an adult.

    I am so clueless about what’s next. I’m just sitting here with my popcorn, watching.


  1. […] Tollbooth by Norton Juster#11 The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin#12 The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien#13 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson#14 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling#15 Because of […]