Why Treehouses Are All the Rage in Children's Books

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Hale, E., & Lounsbury, L. (2018, April 19). Why treehouses are all the rage in children's books. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/au


190402 Creative Writing (incl. Playwriting)| 200101 Communication Studies| 200502 Australian Literature (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature)| 200510 Latin and Classical Greek Literature| 210306 Classical Greek and Roman History

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The tree house functions as a children’s only space with access to fantasy, creativity, anarchy and fun. In The Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne, the tree house acts as a portal to different worlds in time, space, reality and fantasy. In the Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey, the tree house acts as safe space, a retreat from authority, and a creative workshop for boy pranksters, Harold and George, where they write the stories that come to life when they accidentally hypnotise their cranky headmaster. In the 13 Story Tree House series by comic writers Andy Griffith and Terry Denton, the tree house functions as a world-within-a-world, where comic versions of Andy and Terry are given license to muck about and explore childish and anarchic fantasies. With each iteration of the series the tree house gains more storeys, with additional fantasy elements (a detective agency, a roller-coaster, a see-through shark-tank).

A tree house is of course a liminal space: both inside and outside, grounded but in the air, built and natural. Inhabitants are close to nature, but comfortable enough to think about social activities and the way of the world.

So what are the mythological connections? One speculation is a connection to Yggdrasil, the world-tree of Norse mythology. Another is a connection to the house on a chicken-leg of the Russian witch, Baba Yaga. Mythology of trees, forests and woods exploits liminality, and woodland deities are known for their mischievous and spritely behaviour.

We offer this speculation as to why the tree house continues to be popular with young readers: As our children become increasingly urban, and increasingly hovered over by helicoptering parents anxious to recreate an ideal but ideally safe childhood, it is perhaps not as paradoxical as it might seem that children’s books offer a vision of an anarchic, child-controlled space where fantasies, especially those that challenge the status quo, come true.


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