Magic Treehouse was another event I decided to have based on the popularity of the books. These books remain wildly popular at our library and the fans remain as dedicated and intent as ever. We have multiple copies of each title and sometimes they are ALL checked out. I figured with a fanbase this big it was worth having a special event.
And since Magic Treehouse is such an enormously well-known and best-selling series (21 years in print!) I thought that finding activities and parties with the theme would be easy. But most of what I found shared online fell into one of two categories: more in-depth classroom activities focused on certain historical eras and longer, reoccurring regular library programs concentrating on historical eras. There were also a few over-the-top birthday parties that weren’t really feasible. It wasn’t like I had a whole semester or several months of repeated programming to make this one afternoon happen and be engaging. So it turned out to be MUCH harder to plan than I anticipated and that means I am even more proud of the cobbled-together event we created for this. Not only that, I could totally see using this formula to repeat the program or make it more regular.
Here’s how Magic Treehouse happened.
15 minutes of intro & story
The problem with Magic Treehouse is working around all those darned story arcs. As you might know, Magic Treehouse is themed around story arcs – sets of four stories tracing a certain theme. This is the kind of things kids love but it does make programming stand alone problems a challenge. After flipping through the books and reading the backstory and summaries, I realized we were going to have to concentrate on a specific arc.
I chose Penny’s Spell, the newest complete arc. This encompasses books #45-48. In this arc Merlin’s beloved pet penguin Penny has been turned into stone and Jack and Annie are trying to find all the ingredients for a spell to turn her back. (Yes, let’s all take a moment to savor the sentence I just typed. That’s another thing I love about this series – anything is possible, man! Love that sense of wonder in history: history is right there for you to explore and be part of it – it’s real, accessible, fun, and, yes, a little weird! Merlin has a penguin! Sure!) We started, logically, with A Crazy Day with Cobras – the first book in this arc.
30 minutes of craft & activity
Remember in my last post? Where I said what I learned was to never have less than three stations? Well, here’s another summer reading lesson: there are no rules. The Magic Treehouse program was held at our branch library, where we always get a lower attendance. I knew we wouldn’t have a crowd the size we get at the main library so we wouldn’t need to break the kids up to manage their sheer size. I was right (that having been said we still got a much larger crowd than usual for the branch for this – I attribute it to the sheer draw of the theme) and having only two stations worked.
One station was cutting out and assembling a paper Penny and then gluing her to a foam sheet. They decorated the foam sheet with some of our winter foam stickers. (Boy, they love those damn foam stickers, amIright?!) I found a very adorable and simple pattern on the Internet (lots of trolling Pinterest – penguins are a big thing!) and enlarged it to be full size 8.5 x 11. It was easy to cut out, only a few colors, and did I mention ADORABLE?!
To fit the COBRAS the other station was the classic paper plate coil snake. (We didn’t even use the template this time but pasting it on the plates makes it easier for the kids to cut it themselves.) I think kids could do this craft a thousand times and never get tired of it. I have used it at least four times at different programs and they love it and do creative things with it every single time. They love the way it bounces. To decorate the snakes this time we used our secret craft superstar: foil candy wrappers.
Wait, what? Yes. years and years ago – outside of anyone in my department’s memory – someone donated (or perhaps we purchased) several BILLION of these foil candy wrappers. They are GLORIOUS. They are just the right size for little hands, they are shiny and smooth, and they tear easily. They are perfect for sensory play. You can crumple them up or smooth them out. We use them all the time for dozens and dozens of projects of all kinds. Kids of all ages, teens too, are drawn to them. They easily glue (smoothly if kids take the time) to a wide variety of surfaces and they stick once glued down. The strangest part is that we never.seem.to.run.out. of them. Melissa and I suspect they reproduce at night. This craft was the big hit – they loved the snakes. It’s that foil, man. I know it’s not cheap, but I’ll buy more when we run out. Worth every penny!
15 minutes of snacks and wrap-up
Same old snacks: grapes, cookies, lemonade. Same old price tag, around $15: only the grapes were expensive – we buy the cheapest of cookies – and the kids were happy as always. Melissa read more of Crazy Day with Cobras to them as they snacked and they were happy to hear more. We also allowed for some time for them to suggest other Magic Treehouse books for us to have events around – giving them a chance to talk about all their favorite Jack & Annie moments (hint: all of them).
Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned
- Look how adorable Penny is! Look at that tiny hat and her arms! Yet she was a hard sell to the kids and some of them even messed her up without our direct instruction. Why? Because we accidentally forgot the example at the main branch. Without that example, they just weren’t interested in Penny. This re-enforced the lesson that we ALWAYS need to have examples on hand – it not only helps kids figure out how all the pieces go together it also gives them something to get excited about.
- This was another lesson about making sure you know the canon of what you’re presenting. Look, I don’t take MY fandoms lightly – so I should give 8 year olds the same respect of caring about their fandoms. Knowing about the wild canon world and events involving Jack and Annie was important. We didn’t have to know ALL the details but as we learned with Ninjago … faking shows and, hey, it’s lazy. We’re here to be enthusiastic and interested so that we can get kids excited.
- Focus-focus-focus – like with Fancy Nancy we knew we had to focus on a certain book/character/plot arc. Otherwise we were just rambling around. It wasn’t just about the craft, it was giving the kids a specific moment in canon to concentrate on. Related: it doesn’t have to be THE VERY NEWEST book in the series. That doesn’t dull the excitement, they felt the love and excitement throughout the whole event and thus across all the books.
That’s how we created a Magic Treehouse event that worked for our library and our program offerings. All together we had a crowd of about 25 kids and 7 adults. It was a MUCH larger crowd than we usually get for our branch offerings, which was super-exciting. (Maybe it’s just me but it seems like you always feel extra positive when you can do something special for the branch.) Another great positive was that it was a crowd with a large age range – there were very little kids all the way up to 12.
Has your library had a Magic Treehouse event or ongoing program? I’d love to hear from any libraries that did a more concentrated focus on the books over a longer period of time. I could definitely see this being a reoccurring program or an after-school/out of school day event during the year. Are these books still as popular at your library as they are at mine? What other ways can you think of to engage the SUPERFANS of the series? Are there any questions or details about Magic Treehouse I didn’t answer or that you want more info about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here or talk with me on Twitter)
Tomorrow: ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE! (and yes I realized we had MORE EVENTS than I originally thought of – it will take me more than four days to cover them all. Um, so I can’t count, sorry. But hooray, more content for all! That also means the much buzzed about MINECRAFT IRL post will be coming on Monday. Please stay tuned!)