Because planning a program doesn't just take 5 minutes

The 13-Story Treehouse

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things13-story-treehouse    Program Plan:

Start off with book discussion. If we run out of things to talk about, try the discussion questions.  Activity: work together with your parent to build a Lego model of a room you would want to include in your treehouse.  At the end of the program, get together for 5 minutes (or one minute per group) to give them a chance to present their creations.  Possible snacks: marshmallows, bananas, lemonade.

Possible selections for next two meetings (November/December):  The Twits by Roald Dahl, Dracula vs. Grandpa at the Monster Truck Spectacular by Kirk Scroggs, What Was Pompeii? by Jim O’Connor, and Pirate Diary: The Journal of Jake Carpenter by Richard Platt.

What Happened:

treehouse-snackWe had 5 boys and 4 parents in attendance.  All of the boys and three of the four parents had read the book, which was probably a record for us!  They really enjoyed it, too – one boy had stopped off at the desk ahead of time to grab the sequel, and the kids were all bunched up around him looking at it when the program started.

For snack, we had bananas, which no one ate; giant marshmallows, which were a big hit with the boys; lemonade; and Nilla Wafers, just because we had them around and giant marshmallows by themselves didn’t seem like enough of a snack.  When the participants came in, they made name tags and got a snack.  I had the kids sit with their adults so that they could work on the project later.

We started by going around the circle and saying what everyone liked about the book, or giving a favorite part.  Giant gorillas and monkeys flinging bananas were popular with the boys.  The parents liked the creativity and the allusions to other kids’ books.

The discussion lasted about 20 minutes total.  We talked about the catnary and made up some other imaginary animal combinations.  Then we created some superheroes and talked about what problems they might solve.  The boys all wanted to create their own superheroes – Bubble Boy!  Taco Man!  Shape Shifter Dude! – but when pressed they were able to come up with interesting problems for the other superheroes to solve.  Most of the boys warmed up to the discussion, although it was hard to tone down some of the more exuberant boys so that everyone could have a turn.

After the discussion, I introduced the activity.   Before we started, I showed them the possible books for November/December and had them vote.  Then I handed out base plates and buckets of legos and had the boys work with their parents to create new rooms for the treehouse.  I also suggested that as they worked, they could talk about a family story that they might be able to turn into a book.  They ended up spending most of the time building, so the family story thing didn’t happen (not a total surprise.)  Many of the creations were inspired more by the bricks they found in their containers than the idea they started out with, but everyone got really into the building.  We could have gone longer, but we saved the last 5 minutes for the kids to present their creations.  We ended up with the underwater room:


the dune buggy room:


the paintball room:


and the ball pit and trampoline room:


Everyone had a great time.  I felt like busting out the legos was cheating a little bit because it was so easy, but it was a good fit for this book.

The final tally for the November/December choices was:

  • The Twits:  3 adults, 4 kids  (November winner)
  • Dracula vs. Grandpa: 3 adults, 2 kids (December winner)
  • What Was Pompeii?:  1 adult, 2 kids
  • Pirate Diary: 1 adult, 1 kid

There was a little more agreement between the adults and kids this time; other times, the kids’ votes have been more distributed across the book.  If I keep letting them vote, we may stick permanently with humorous fiction.  Perhaps next time I will have only one funny choice and see what else we come up with.

Discussion Questions

  1. What was your favorite room in the 13-story treehouse?  If you lived in a treehouse, what would be your one essential room or invention to make it perfect?
  2. Did you notice that the author and illustrator were named Andy and Terry, just like the book characters?  Imagine that you are going to write a fictionalized book about your family.  What would it be about?  (Have them talk together for a few minutes and then report back.)
  3. Terry painted a cat yellow and it turned into a catnary.  What other two animals could you combine into one cool creation?
  4. What did you think of the Adventures of Superfinger?  What other adventures could a finger have?  Can you think of another unlikely superhero [or pull one at random from a selection of pictures]?  What problems could they solve?

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