Writing in the Treehouse: Fan Fiction

I don’t write fanfiction, but I think it’s a great thing. It’s got to make the process of writing easier to start because you already know the characters and their world. Presumably, you’re really into them. Fanfic can be inspired by books, TV, movies, games.

Image: Lucélia Ribeiro. CC BY-SA 2.0. from https://www.flickr.com/photos/lupuca/8720604364
Image: Lucélia Ribeiro. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Students as Producers

The really awesome thing about fanfic is that it helps kids to become producers, not only consumers of texts. Christina Olin-Scheller and Patrik Wikstrom use Toffler’s termprosumer to highlight the importance of fans’ participation with the text. Katie Behrens emphasises that fanfic needs to be transformative rather than derivative and therefore contain substantial original material. Yet fanfic etiquette requires writers stay within the canon i.e. the world of the text created by the author. In the primary school context this might be less rigidly enforced, particularly for reluctant writers. But, remaining within the canon could enable teachers to gauge students’ comprehension of the text, particularly character traits.

Image: Carissa Rogers. CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/goodncrazy/5437572328
Image: Carissa Rogers. CC BY 2.0.

When students are inspired by a text to write fanfic, there is potential for them to become involved in a community of similarly inspired writers, or an affinity space. An authentic fanfic community provides members with the feeling that their writing matters to someone. Group members share and receive feedback on their work. To nourish such a community within a classroom/school the teacher can encourage several groups of students to write fanfic based on texts that are relevant to them. Debra Sprague has created a wonderful forum for primary school students to share and receive feedback on their fanfic. Where the Story Never Ends is a purposefully created site for primary school writers. Alternatively, students could upload their fanfic to school based websites.

Image: Debra Sprague, from https://kidfanfiction.pbworks.com/w/page/44891487/Kid%20Fan%20Fiction
Image: Debra Sprague, kidfanfiction

Inspired by The Treehouse Books

Survey results suggest my Year 3 students could be inspired to write fanfic by Andy Griffiths’ and Terry Denton’s The Treehouse books. I know most of them have read these books. Some of them were in my Year 2 class last year and I read them The 13-Storey Treehouse and took them to a theatre adaptation of it. The boys especially loved drawing their own treehouse designs; they would create group drawings that required up to 12 pieces of A4 paper taped together. This was a wonderfully collaborative experience for them.

Image: The 52-Storey Treehouse audiobook on ipad
Image: The 52-Storey Treehouse audiobook on iPad

How to start writing after reading any of these books with the class? Students could collaborate to produce group drawings and discuss possible story lines as they draw. The exchange of language and ideas can propel students to write individual or shared fanfic. A fantastic idea from Debra Sprague is to provide students with fanfic mentor texts written by the teacher (or other teachers or older students). Simple innovation on a text, a common classroom writing strategy, can be the beginnings of fanfic. Students could also create cartoon strip fanfic using Comic Creation Apps.

Book Fair: Treehouse Series display
Book Fair Treehouse books display. These books sold like hotcakes and have potential to inspire readers to write fanfic.

I’ve looked at how The Treehouse books could be a perfect fit for many of my Year 3 students. What texts (books, games, TV shows, movies) can you see inspiring fanfic with students? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Vox Pop Year 3

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Image: Raphael Jeanneret. CC0 Public Domain.

The Survey

To find out more about the world of popular culture texts in which my Year 3 students are engaged I asked them to complete this quick and dirty survey.  No time to employ the scientific method, and allowing for possible peer-peer influence, I hoped some of the information gathered would help me better understand what my Year 3 students get into away from the classroom.

The Results

The graphs below present some helpful information about my students’ preferences for books, TV shows, movies and other popular culture. Where useful, and for ease of interpretation, I have colour-coded exclusively male and female responses with blue and pink shades respectively. (Yes, goes against the grain but everyone knows this system!)

Q. List 5 things that are really popular right now.

The results from this question, shown in the graph below,  are enlightening for me. The singers, books and mobile devices were predictable, but some of physical toys and TV shows were unfamiliar to me.

A high number of responses indicated the popularity of physical (real-life) toys.  The graph above shows a break-down of the Physical Toys category to highlight specific answers. Responses from boys and girls are coded with blue and pink shades respectively. As shown by the graph, many of the girls are into Shopkins.

Image: lu-lu. from https://www.flickr.com/photos/_lulu/. CC BY-NC 2.0
Image: lu-lu. Shopkins army, assembled. CC BY-NC 2.0.

I’ve seen my Year 3 girls playing with these little figurines, but I’ve been completely unaware that these Australian created and manufactured collectibles are such a big craze. Cindy Train (Daily Mail Australia) claims the toy has attracted 13 million fans to webisodes and 400+ million views on fan videos. They’ve taken out the 2015 Girl Toy of the Year Award and even have their own Ekka (Queensland Royal Show) showbag. I feel a post on gendered toys could be in order!

Movies

The second highest number of responses to what was most popular things question was movies. The graph below shows a variety of movie titles, but Minions the clear winner. When the most popular movies from the above graph (scoring votes of 2 or more) were broken down to specific titles and collated according to gender, differences in preferences became obvious. Overall, the girls indicated a higher interest in movies than the boys. The takeaway from this data could be that my selection of popular culture movies to enhance student engagement in the curriculum might require more careful consideration than initially anticipated. How to find a movie or movies that inspires all students?

Image: stevepb. minions. Creative Commons CC0. from https://pixabay.com/en/dancing-dave-minion-minion-tim-510835/
Image: stevepb. minions. CC0 Public Domain.

Q. What books are popular right now?

I was also really keen to find out what books ranked with my students. Books nominated by both girls and boys are shaded green. It is clear that The Treehouse series books by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton are the books most favoured by my students, and I know they are excited about the latest title, The 65-Storey Treehouse. The breakdown of responses for The Treehouse series was 5 girls and 6 boys, showing a gender-neutral spread among these readers. These books were selling like hotcakes at our recent Book Fair.  I think there is wonderful scope for using this series to inspire learning and I am keen to explore this idea in a future post.

Overall, I think this survey has been a valuable exercise for me as I feel I know my students a little more. It has also provided me with impetus to continue to follow my students’ popular culture interests.