In 1996 I received a package of letters from grade two at Endeavour Elementary School in Endeavour, Saskatchewan. It was a small package because only 5 kids were in class the day the letters were written. The teacher explained that it was -50 outside and most of the kids had decided to stay home.
One of the letters was from Rene Jakbowski.
Dear Robert Munsch,
I have a playhouse that my Daddy made. I like helping Daddy with the cows in the summer time. I open the gate for dad and help to feed the grains and minerals. Grama and Grampa had a new baby colt.
From your friend,
I liked Rene’s drawing of her playhouse. I made up a story about it and sent it to her. In the story, Rene kept asking for a better and better playhouse and finally for a playbarn. I knew Rene would like a play barn because of all the farm stuff she wrote about in her letter.
Rene liked the story and sent me a photo of her real playhouse. It was quite a playhouse because it had 2 stories and a balcony and a slide!
I thought that PLAYHOUSE was just a ‘letter’ story and I did not start telling it a lot until I figured out that I could change the story . It soon had a city version and a fishing version and a mining town version and a ranch version.
In 1999 I was doing some storytelling shows in Saskatchewan and I decided to visit Rene’s farm. I wrote and asked if it was ok . Rene’s mom said “YES!”.
After a show in Yorktown, I drove to Endeavour, which is a very very very small town with just one store and 200 people. Then I drove out to Rene’s farm which is about 15 km. out of town on dirt roads.
The farm was very different from what I had expected. I had been thinking that Rene lived on a southern Saskatchewan farm where the whole world is flat and all you can see is wheat fields. Her real farm was out in the middle of the woods. In the winter her dad is a logger and cuts down trees. All over the place were huge tree snippers and log grabbers and trunk cutters along with the tractors and cultivators that I had been expecting. I took a lot of pictures.
Besides the logging, there were lots of things that I never would have imagined:
- Rene had fish painted all over her bedroom wall.
- A tree snipper is lots of fun to drive because it has so many controls. It is like a huge complicated video game. I learned how to cut down, stack and cut up trees. Since my books are made from trees, it was interesting to really cut one down.
- There was a huge pile of cut firewood.
- Rene’s dad had “Jakobowski Enterprises” painted on a huge boulder at the front of the farm entrance.
Once I was back, I decided that I really wanted to do the playhouse story as a book. I convinced Scholastic Canada to do it. I gave all my photos to Michael Martchenko and he did the pictures.