Jesse's family and life are very different from those of his friend, Leslie. Jesse comes from a poor family. He is one of five children, and, whether due to age or gender, much more is expected of him than of his four sisters. He works on the family farm and helps his mother with the household chores. His parents work very hard and are often angry and stressed. They are not very loving or affectionate towards Jesse. His mother often yells at him: "Of course, her temper had been terrible, and she had screamed at Jess all afternoon and was now too tired to fix any supper." His father is hardly ever home and when he is, he is too tired to pay attention to Jesse: "His dad was so tired from the wear and tear of the week and trying to catch up around the place that when he wasn't actually working, he was sleeping in front of the TV."
Both of his parents give preferential treatment to his sisters. His mother lets her daughters go shopping, while Jesse is expected to work all day. His father is cold and distant to Jesse but affectionate towards his other children, which hurts Jesse's feelings: "It made Jess ache inside to watch his dad grab the little ones to his shoulder, or lean down and hug them. It seemed to him that he had been thought too big for that since the day he was born." Jesse enjoys running and drawing, but due to his many responsibilities, he does not have much time to indulge in his hobbies. He cannot afford art supplies, and his father becomes angry when Jesse tells him that he wants to be an artist. The only support or encouragement he receives (before meeting Leslie) is from his teacher, Miss Edmund, who tells him that he is "unusually talented."
Leslie's family is markedly different from Jesse's. Unlike Jesse, Leslie is an only child. Her parents do not struggle financially as Jesse's do. Leslie has both the time and means to pursue her hobbies, which include reading and scuba diving. Her parents are supportive of her interests and enjoy her company. At first, Jesse is envious of Leslie's relationship with her parents, particularly with her father, Bill. His own parents do not pay him much attention and it hurts him to see the way Leslie's parents dote on her. Over time, he grows fond of the Burkes and enjoys helping them fix up their house. Bill praises Jesse, telling him he is "amazing," which is not something he ever hears from his own father.
Both of Leslie's parents are writers and are very intelligent, which sometimes intimidates him. The topics the Burkes discuss are often inaccessible to Jesse, and he is afraid to participate in their conversations because he does not want them to think he is stupid: "he was scared to open his mouth and show once and for all how dumb he was." Although it is not explicitly stated, given the way Jesse's parents speak and their state of living, it is implied that they are less educated than the Burkes are.
Both the Aarons and the Burkes contribute to Jesse and Leslie's creation of Terabithia in different ways. For Jesse, Terabithia serves as a form of escape from his difficult and unhappy life. He works very hard, has many responsibilities, is mistreated by his parents, and has very little time for fun or leisure activities. For Jesse, Terabithia is a welcome distraction from the many hardships in his life. For Leslie, Terabithia has a different meaning. As a result of her parents' love, support, and encouragement, Leslie is confident and adventurous. Terabithia is a manifestation of these qualities and an outlet for her vivid imagination. Terabithia is also an opportunity for Leslie to create something of her own in her new home after moving away from her former school, friends and life in the suburbs.