A pizza this, a tomato spat, and on with the storey

The Weekend Australian - Review - - BOOKS - Stephen Romei

The 52-Storey Tree­house By Andy Grif­fiths Il­lus­trated by Terry Den­ton Pan Macmil­lan, 330pp, $12.99 WITH each 13-storey ad­di­tion to Andy Grif­fiths and Terry Den­ton’s fan­tas­ti­cal tree­house, first erected in 2011, it be­comes harder to de­cide which new fea­ture is the coolest. Take the en­hance­ments we find in the open­ing pages of The 52-Storey Tree­house: who doesn’t want a wa­ter­melon-smash­ing room, a chain­saw jug­gling level (ouch!), a rock­ing horse race­track, a Dis­guise-o-matic 5000 or a life-sized snakes and lad­ders game, with real snakes?

But the room to which my nine-year-old, Syd, and I keep re­turn­ing is the make-our-own-

Novem­ber 22-23, 2014 pizza par­lour, with its ar­ray of crazy in­gre­di­ents. De­cid­ing which four-top­ping pie would be the most dis­gust­ing is a chal­lenge. Syd goes for liq­uid bats’ brains, cus­tard, eggs and wood.

There’s also a Ninja Snail Train­ing Academy (which Andy stresses is “Terry’s idea, not mine”), though he will have rea­son to thank th­ese glacial glad­i­a­tors in the course of an ad­ven­ture that starts with the dis­ap­pear­ance of the duo’s pub­lisher, the gruff and ex­citable Mr Big Nose.

On ar­riv­ing at the head­quar­ters of Big Nose Books, Andy and Terry find Mr Big Nose’s empty of­fice in vi­o­lent dis­ar­ray. On the floor is a clue, a book called Fun With Vegetables by one Veg­etable Patty.

The book is a dec­la­ra­tion of war on vegetables, with the me­dievally armed Ms Patty shown whip­ping, boil­ing, slic­ing and skew­er­ing a va­ri­ety of veg. Now, Andy and Terry are no gree­nies, but this seems a bit over the top.

The boys are about to leave when they spot a cater­pil­lar trem­bling in a pot plant on Mr Big Nose’s desk. A wit­ness! If only cater­pil­lars could talk. Of course! Their friend Jill can talk to any an­i­mal.

So it’s off to Jill’s. How­ever, they find her and all her an­i­mals asleep, in the Sleep­ing Beauty sense. The an­swer is a kiss from a hand­some prince, so Andy, Terry, the cater­pil­lar and the co­matose Jill head for the near­est cas­tle, which to their sur­prise and con­ster­na­tion turns out to be the palace of Prince Potato, ruler of the Veg­etable King­dom. Scenes of high drama en­sue, not least when the de­ranged Veg­etable Patty en­ters the fray.

Syd and I read this book in a sit­ting: there was no way we could wait to find out what would hap­pen next. We also laughed a lot. An ex­tended se­quence in which the boys ar­gue with a bel­liger­ent tomato, out­raged to be called a fruit, is price­less.

And the vo­ra­cious cater­pil­lar (it eats rhi­nos, steam­rollers and much more) puts a well­known ri­val in the shade. There’s also (I think) a Don Quixote riff go­ing on, which made for an ed­u­ca­tional side dis­cus­sion.

The Tree­house books are a trea­sure: clever, funny and, most im­por­tant, a re­minder that a child’s imag­i­na­tion has no lim­its. Syd and I have lots of sug­ges­tions for the next 13 storeys.

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