Saturday, April 4, 2015

39-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

Almost two years ago my friend, Colby Sharp, told me to add another book to my “to read” pile. It was by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton and was called The 13-Story Treehouse. I immediately picked it up, read it, and laughed a lot along the way. Who wouldn’t? It’s about two guys (Andy and Terry) with the craziest treehouse imaginable. It had a see-through swimming pool, marshmallow machine, self-making beds, and a library full of comics, for Pete’s sake. I enjoyed the book.

My son, however, devoured it. Liam was seven at the time and it was the first book that made him feel like a “real reader.” (His words, not mine.) He loved that it was longer than what he was reading, but had chapters and illustrations. He thought the humor was hilarious. As he turned pages, he’d quote new sections to me and tell me what items he had just “discovered” in their treehouse. He was hooked.

I brought the book into my classroom musing that if a second grader loved it, surely it couldn’t be for fifth graders. Wrong. The kids not only enjoyed the book, but began sketching out their own crazy treehouses as well.

My students and son have been huge fans of the first book and the second (26-Story Treehouse.) Liam was incensed when he discovered that if you live in Australia, you would have several more books in the series already. I informed him we were not moving, and only have to wait three more days for The 39-Story Treehouse to hit the stores. Until then, please enjoy this interview Liam and I had with Andy Griffith, the author of the series. (Terry Denton is the illustrator.) Our questions are in purple, his answers are in black. Enjoy!

Questions from Katherine:
Katherine: My students are always curious about the writing process for authors. It varies so much from person to person. Can you share a bit what your writing process looks like? Are you a notebook user, or do you draft solely on the computer?

Andy: Although I dearly love computers to help with the editing process, I still can’t go past the simple freedom and joy I feel with a pen in my hand and a cheap notebook in my lap. The notebook gives me the freedom to draw, list and set my ideas down in a fast and scrappy form. I can scribble out, start again, build an idea, destroy an idea and then recombine the elements into something that works.

As the idea deepens and I want to explore it further in more detail I will generally hit the computer and start expanding it into a form that looks something like it might look in book form. But there will still be many rewrites to follow, and when I strike a problem with the story, I will revert to my notebook to free things up and start playing again … then back to the computer. It’s a continual back and forth between the two mediums.

My students also often work collaboratively on writing projects with their classmates. Sometimes this goes well, sometimes it could be improved upon. What are your tips for working collaboratively? You and Terry seem to have found the secret. 

I’ve been fortunate to have a creative partnership with illustrator Terry Denton for almost twenty years. The process usually starts with me coming up with a very loose outline of a story or an idea and then he starts providing some images that might suit it. These images often include elements that I hadn’t thought about and then I expand the outline to include those ideas and the story starts developing naturally.

Each of us keeps pushing the other to places we might not be able to get to by ourselves. There is never an argument about ‘whose idea is best’ … we are only interested in coming up with the best possible story and it really doesn’t matter who comes up with what … usually we can’t even remember.

The main feature of our collaboration is that we are continually playing and experimenting and having fun. If we are not enjoying what we are doing, it’s a warning sign that we need to rethink what we are doing.

Questions from Liam (9 years old):
Liam: What do you think is the funniest book you have written? 

Andy: Hmmm … that’s a very difficult question because people differ so wildly in what they think is funny! I love the extremely silly nonsense of ‘Killer Koalas from Outer Space’ but it’s not necessarily everybody’s idea of a good time. I think the Treehouse series is our most successful series yet that blends many different styles of humor into a book that most people can enjoy.

If you could spend a day in your tree house, what would you do? 

Well, I guess I’d start off with a swim in the shark tank, head to the ice cream parlor for breakfast, do a little bit of writing with Terry, have a marshmallow lunch and then climb up to the trampoline at the top of the tree and bounce so high that I end up on top of a jet and take a flight to a mystery destination.

Is there something you would like to add to the tree house, but haven't? It does have a volcano, so maybe it has everything. 

I think we need a time machine. I’d really like to go back in time and see a Bignoseasaurus!

Thanks to Andy for stopping by and answering our questions. Look for 39-Story Treehouse out this Tuesday.