Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and the Ultimate tree House

The summer after 4th grade my mother brought home a library book for me. She thought I should expand my horizons a bit and read something other than horse stories. The book she gave me was by Rumer Godden and it was called "Miss Happiness and Miss Flower" England is the last place Nona Fells wants to be. No one asked her if she wanted to leave sunny India to live in a chilly English village with her aunt's family - and her cousin, Belinda, just hates her! But when two dainty Japanese dolls arrive at Nona's doorstep, everything begins to change. Like Nona, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower are lonely and homesick, so Nona decides to build them their own traditional Japanese house. Over time, not only does Nona create a home for the dolls, but one for herself as well.

I fell in love with the Japanese culture through this book. I was fascinated with the dolls but most of all I was envious of the Japanese doll house they build. In the back of the book are the plans for the doll house that Tom builds for Nona. How I wished I had a clever older brother who could build such a house for me.Sadly-my father nor my brothers were handy . I did not own Japanese dolls but that didn't matter. I would make dolls for my house- if I ever got a house.

I compromised- I created a Japanese garden. I used a pop flat and lined it with plastic. Then I filled it with sand from the sandbox. I pried the mirror out of the hand mirror and brush set I got for my birthday and used it to create a pond. For trees I cut branches off the evergreen by the alley. I used pebbles to make a path. I couldn't make a clay lantern to put a candle in like Nona did in the book but I was pretty pleased with my garden...

Fast forward 40 years later- I am thumbing through a magazine waiting at the salon. There is an article about a math teacher who has his students build a tree house and it's all part of a math unit in his class. Can you see the light bulb go off in my head? What an awesome idea! What a cool class!

This summer I offered "The Ultimate Tree House" as a 5 week class. I provide the kids with a base with 3-4 branches drilled and glued into it. They get a supply of balsa wood, craft sticks, wire, walnut shells, slices of wood logs with the bark on them and other assorted items, a hot glue gun, coping saw, x-acto knife and a pencil. The only requirement for the class is they have to have more than one level, at least one level must have a structure on it with walls and a roof and every level needs some way to access it. Rope ladder, regular ladder, stairs, slide- there's no magic jumping from one level to the next.

What a fun project! Sessions 1 and 2 were half full. Sessions 3 and 4 are filled. I had people stopping in to see the progress the kids made on their houses over the first 5 week sessions. It wasn't until we got to the part where the kids started furnishing their tree houses that I thought about Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and how hard they wished for a house of their own...

I still have not built my Japanese doll house but I have my own copy of "Miss Happiness and Miss Flower" with the house plans in the back. I am going to try my hand at building my own doll house some day and then I am going to find a set of Japanese dolls to go inside. But in the meantime I am having so much fun watching this forest of doll sized tree houses under construction in the studio. This class is a keeper and I will offer it each summer until there aren't any children with imaginations left to take it!

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