Two boys are supposed to be writing a book, but understandably they’re a bit distracted: they live in a 13-story treehouse with a bowling alley, a see-through swimming pool, an underground laboratory, and a marshmallow machine. Oh – and they’re contending with flying cats, giant bananas, mermaids, sea monsters, and gorillas. Such is the uproarious scene Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton have set in The 13-Story Treehouse, an illustrated middle-grade novel released this month by Feiwel and Friends. These longtime Australian collaborators are well versed in slapstick humor, having worked together on such books as Killer Koalas from Outer Space, The Cat on the Mat Is Flat, and The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow.

It’s no coincidence that the protagonists of The 13-Story Treehouse are named Andy and Terry – and that they’re charged with the task of writing a book. “The relationship that Terry and I have developed over the years came into play,” says Griffiths of the genesis of the novel. “We often go away for a week or two once a year to my parents’ holiday house near Melbourne, and we lose ourselves in writing and drawing and making crazy stories. We revert to our 10-year-old selves, lost in our own world of creativity. I remember getting similarly lost in imaginative games while playing in my cousin’s treehouse as a child. So the treehouse seemed like a nice metaphor for Terry and my state of mind when we’re creating books. And like the boys in the book, we’re apt to waste a lot of time!”

Griffiths and Denton slyly slip a message for aspiring writers into their latest novel. Noting that the question their young fans most frequently ask them is where their story ideas come from, the author explains, “Here we wanted to suggest that ideas come from stuff in everyday life. What’s happening to you may seem too ordinary to be important to anyone else, but that’s the key to writing. I love making stories out of tiny little dramas, like finding a bathroom in a shopping mall or removing a Band-Aid from my finger – I love turning those into epic dramas. In this book, the boys have wasted a lot of time messing around, but their book gets written as they experience various little dramas while they’re trying to figure out how they are going to write it. I feel that’s exactly what Terry and I do.”

Jean Feiwel, publisher of Feiwel and Friends, first worked with Griffiths and Denton when she was at Scholastic, which published the collaborators’ The Day My Butt Went Psycho in 2003. She acquired The 13-Story Treehouse in a four-book deal; the second installment in the series, The 26-Story Treehouse, will be published in spring 2014.

Feiwel describes Griffith’s new novel as his most accomplished book to date. “There is much more story here than in his earlier books, and not every chapter has a punch line,” she says. “He and Terry are spoofing on themselves, and are having a good time. But they are also challenging readers and teaching them something about writing: how at the end of they day, they need content, they need to focus, and they need to sit down and write.”

Griffiths, who is currently on a two-week tour to promote The 13-Story Treehouse, observes that the novel reflects an evolution in his and Denton’s collaborative process. “When we did the first books in the Just series, Terry’s contribution was art in the margins that provided a sort of commentary and created a world of silliness around the edges of the story,” he explains. “We wanted to bring the art into center stage and began working as a fully-fledged partnership. It’s taken till now to fully combine our talents to tell the story, and to use the pictures as actual storytelling devices, not just as decoration for the words.

He says that he doesn’t consider Treehouse a book that either of them could have produced on their own. “That to me is the mark of a true collaboration. I am good with structure and Terry’s good at messing that structure up. We have a really good influence on each other.”

The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, illus. by Terry Denton. Feiwel and Friends, $13.99 Apr. ISBN 978-1-250-02690-3

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