Created by Australian author Andy Griffiths and illustrator Terry Denton, The 13-Story Treehouse introduced two boys, Andy and Terry, who are writing a book—allegedly. But it’s understandably difficult to concentrate on that task when their multi-tiered Treehouse offers such amenities as a bowling alley, a see-through swimming pool, and a marshmallow machine. Published by Feiwel and Friends in 2013, this illustrated novel has spawned seven companion titles; to date the series has sold seven million copies worldwide—and a whopping three million in Australia alone (The 65-Story Treehouse was the bestselling book in Australia in 2015).
This is a busy year for Griffiths and Denton—and their fictional alter egos. In 2018, for the first time, the publisher will release two new Treehouse novels in a single year, The 78-Story Treehouse (Mar.) and The 91-Story Treehouse (July). Due out with first printings of 100,000 copies each, the books will feature redesigned covers, seen here for the first time, that give the series a new visual vibe.
Griffiths also expands his outreach to American fans this year, traveling to these shores from his native Australia in March to embark on his most extensive U.S. tour to date. In addition, the play The 13-Story Treehouse made its American debut this month, with the Australian troupe performing the work in 17 cities through early March.
Connecting with his readers is not only highly enjoyable for Griffiths, who is known for his uproarious, out-of-the-box performances for young audiences, but useful, since he and Denton siphon some of their ideas from imaginative and curious kids. “In each book we are ostensibly attempting to answer one of the many questions that our growing legion of readers ask us,” the author explained. “In the process of trying to answer the question, we are often caught up in a series of increasingly over-the-top dramas, which prevent us from answering the question, but form the narrative core of the book. As John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ Substitute ‘Story’ for ‘Life’ in that quote, and you pretty much have an accurate description of both our actual working life and our imaginary life in the Treehouse.”
In addition to their thematic inspirations, readers also fuel the collaborators’ creativity when it comes to the Treehouse’s comedic nuts and bolts, which in the two 2018 novels include such outrageous add-ons as an all-ball sports stadium, a high-security potato chip storage facility, a sub shop with actual submarine-sized sandwiches, and an air-traffic control tower. “Terry and I conduct an ongoing conversation with our readers through live events and written correspondence, and we have a pretty good idea of the sort of things they are interested in and that are likely to grab their attention,” said Griffiths. “But only rarely do we give it to them in the way they are expecting.”
Occasionally, he added, “kids knock it out of the park all by themselves. For instance, the ‘ninja-snail training academy’ in the The 52-Story Treehouse is taken verbatim from a reader suggestion. And over the years we’ve had requests for many types of sporting levels—too many to incorporate—so we invented the ‘all-ball sports level,’ where you can play every ball sport in the world all at the same time, to solve the problem.”
Timing, Design, and Tour Tweaks
Jean Feiwel, editor of the series and publisher of her eponymous imprint at Macmillan Children’s Book Group, explained that Feiwel and Friends’ decision to publish both 78-Story and 91-Story in 2018 was rooted in the groundswell of requests from readers to bump up the publishing schedule so as to more closely align to the installments’ appearances in Australia and the U.K. “I don’t think readers’ complaints that books are available elsewhere but not in the U.S. is in itself reason to accelerate the publishing schedule,” said Feiwel. “But in this case, we had such an increased demand and so many requests from readers that I felt strongly that we needed to catch up.” Though 78-Story and 91-Story are already out in the other territories, with the spring 2019 release of 104-Story, the series will be published simultaneously in all three markets.
The “distinctive and colorful” cover redesign for the series, said Feiwel, was inspired by the Macmillan sales team’s suggestion that the art highlight the characters rather than the Treehouse. Griffiths is thrilled with the new look of the books, noting, “I think the bright, bold, and exciting pictures help to reflect the fact that the books are a combination of humor, fantasy, and adventure, and even more importantly that Andy, Terry, and Jill are a group of friends experiencing these adventures together.”
Looking ahead to his upcoming two-week U.S. tour, Griffiths observed, “I love nothing better than engaging with large groups of enthusiastic readers as well as their parents and teachers. I especially love making outrageous statements to an audience and then having them challenge and argue with me. I find I become very creative as I desperately try to justify an unjustifiable position, and new story ideas often emerge from these types of dialogues.”
Feiwel observed that Griffiths, indeed, relishes the spotlight—and shines brightly in it. “When Andy presents to kids, seeing is believing,” she said. “He is the most effective communicator and performer I’ve ever seen. Part of his appeal is that he is irreverent and silly, and performs without any regard for the adults in the room—he is entirely dedicated to the children. I’ve heard gasps from the audience—he can border on subversive—but he does it with a great deal of affection. The same is true with his writing. Within the madness there is a calculated storyline, and he knows exactly what he’s doing. Andy has his own rules and they definitely work!”
A momentous part of the tour for Griffith will be its kickoff event on March 13 at An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Mass., where he will be joined onstage by the bookstore’s owner, Jeff Kinney. “Getting to present with Jeff Kinney is a dream come true, really,” said Griffiths. “I admired the Wimpy Kid books from the very early days—such brilliant economy of storytelling, which never underestimates the intelligence of the audience. I felt Jeff was a kindred spirit long before I met him, and when I did meet him was very happy to discover that he is a very generous, genuine, and fun-loving person as well.”
Asked about how much higher the Treehouse will grow, Griffiths replies that construction plans are still, well, up in the air. “Fortunately, because the Treehouse is imaginary, there is no limit!” he said. “It’s like an Aladdin’s cave of ideas, and new stories and plots just keep coming. Terry and I are thrilled that the series has inspired so many children around the world to unleash their inner architects and draw their own elaborate Treehouses—and write their own Treehouse adventures. It completes the circle in a very satisfying way. We can’t quite believe that we are currently writing book eight, The 104-Story Treehouse. In fact, it’s almost as if the books are writing themselves—ooh, spooky—hey, that gives me an idea….”
The 78-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, illus. by Terry Denton. Feiwel and Friends, $13.99 Mar. ISBN 978-1-250-10485-4
The 91-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, illus. by Terry Denton. Feiwel and Friends, $13.99 July ISBN 978-1-250-10488-5