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'Terabithia' Inspired by True Events

Feb 18, 2007 (All Things Considered)

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Award-winning children's author Katherine Paterson was inspired to write The Bridge to Terabithia after her son's childhood friend was struck and killed by lightning. The book has since become a classic and was just released as a Disney film.

The novel tells the story of Jess Aarons, a fifth-grade boy who befriends the new girl in his rural Virginia town. They create a make-believe world of their own and forge a fast friendship before a tragic end.

Paterson's son, David, gave her permission to publish the book more than 30 years ago. He was 8 years old. Now a screenwriter, he adapted his mother's famed novel for the big screen, a project he says has taken the better part of 17 years to get right.

Writing the book brought Paterson emotional understanding about terrible events, but over the years, critics have wondered whether its themes are too heavy for children.

Paterson says that the books we read in childhood are a rehearsal for experiences later in life.

"It's been absolutely miraculous to me over the years that people have not only read the book but they have loved it," she says. "People bring their own lives to the book, their own images ... that creates it."

Her hope is that the book allows children to use their imaginations not only to escape reality, but to solve their problems and make sense of the world.

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