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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that veteran kids' books author Lisa Graff tackles the subject of divorce and kids' rights in The Great Treehouse War. The parents in this book literally put their daughter, Winnie, in the middle of their divorce at the end of her fourth-grade year. They demand an absolutely even time share, argue in front of her ("I'd like to erase you," her mother says to her father), and build rituals and holidays around besting the other parent. It's up to the child to act, and she sequesters herself in a kitted-out tree house, where she's been spending her Wednesdays to keep the time share even. But by the end of fifth grade she's nearly failing due to her parents' disruptive behavior. Luckily her friends join her fight, bringing laughter and support. The book is presented as a "collective memoir" written by Winnie and her classmates. Though the kids-vs.-parents theme is funny, this book might hit a little too close to home for kids caught in a custody battle.
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What's the story?
In THE GREAT TREEHOUSE WAR, Indian-American Winnie's parents, a mathematician and a scientist, sit Winnie between them at the end of her fourth-grade year, put a hand on each of her knees, and tell her they are getting a divorce. They emphasize that they will split her evenly among them, having thought out a custody plan in which she will spend three days a week with one parent and three with the other -- and every Wednesday alone in the tree house her uncle has erected exactly between their two properties. As the end of the next school year approaches, Winnie finds her parents' wrangling to get a leg up on the other parent so distracting that she's dangerously close to failing fifth grade. So, she decides to stay in the tree house until someone can talk sense. The fun really begins when Winnie's friends join her to protest their own parents, turning the end of the school year into the "world's best slumberparty."
Is it any good?
This story's humorous handling of divorce leads readers on a quirky tree house adventure. Kids will love the idea: a tree house that can house 10 fifth-graders, complete with a loft, a bathroom, a sleeping beanbag, a resident cat, a zip line, an artist's corner, and lots of sugared cereal. With the exception of the teachers and a cool uncle, the adults are acting like "idiots," putting their interests first. That behavior, of course, is the point of the story -- told in the form of a "collective memoir" by Winnie and her fifth-grade classmates -- and the point of the "Tulip Street Ten," who protest the unfairness of life at home.
Behind the fantasy and humor, however, lie serious subjects, such as child neglect and the fallout of divorce. Funny? Winnie doesn't think so -- she's terrified of failing fifth grade because her parents don't let her do her schoolwork. The threats and one-ups, arguments and manipulations are squirm-worthy. Author Lisa Graff has said this story was inspired by her own parents' divorce, but she has the advantage of being an adult who has a 30,000-foot view of it. Winnie does learn to speak up for herself, but kids who are going through custody battles might get triggered by the sheer selfishness and meanness of these parents' behavior. Though it's fun to follow 10 kids who pull off a 19-day protest in an awesome tree house, the larger question is whether the means of this story justify the end.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the divorce depicted in The Great Treehouse War. How is Winnie put in the middle? How does she learn to stand up for her well-being?
Can you think of any other books or movies where the kids live on their own? Is this fantasy appealing to you? Why, or why not?
Every kid in this book is good at some craft, game, or special thing. What are you especially good at? Do you think that having a special hobby makes you a more interesting person?
- Author: Lisa Graff
- Genre: Family Life
- Topics: Adventures, Arts and Dance, Book Characters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Middle School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Philomel
- Publication date: May 19, 2017
- Number of pages: 260
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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