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Monday musings on Australian literature: Supermarket mini-collectables

August 3, 2020

Have you ever got caught up in those knicky-knacky promotional plastic toy campaigns that supermarkets often run to encourage you to buy at their store? You know, as in “spend $x and get a free y” with, usually, a new one every week for z weeks, encouraging you to get them all. I’m sure you know the deal …

Well, I was rather interested to read in various outlets recently, including Books & Publishing and news.com.au, that

Stikeez are gone and now Coles have announced their new range of mini collectables will be 24 pocket-sized books from the famous Treehouse series.

Now, that’s a much better idea.

Book coverIf you are not Australian, and not parents, grandparents or teachers of young children, you may not know about “the famous Treehouse series”. It started with the book, The 13-storey treehouse, written by Andy Griffiths and illustrated by Terry Denton. This book won the Australian Book Industry Association Awards (ABIA) Book of the Year for Older Children in 2012. Since then, this pair has produced 8 more books in the series, each book adding another 13 storeys to the treehouse, so The 26-storey treehouse (2012), The 39-story treehouse (2013), up to last year’s, or 2019’s, The 117-storey treehouse.

According to news.com.au, Griffiths and Denton “have collaborated with Coles” to produce a special set of 24 pocket-sized books for “the supermarket giant’s latest collectable campaign”. Griffiths says of this special “little” series that many of them

… will feature favourite characters from over the years and give them a chance to really shine.

There will be a couple of feature tours, one through the treehouse, some new episodes, including an elephant on a bicycle which is a sneak peek of a character you will see later in the year when the 130-Storey Treehouse comes out.

Given the huge success of the series – more than 10 million copies sold in Australia, 80 children’s choice awards and 10 ABIA Awards – this collectables campaign would, you’d have to think, be a bit of a winner for Coles. Described as a “world-first collectable campaign”, it aims, said Coles CEO Lisa Ronson, “to encourage a lifelong love of books”.

Of course it’s hard not to be cynical, when you read things like:

We all remember the excitement that Little Shop [a previous mini-collectables campaign] created for customers of all ages and we really wanted to create that same level of excitement for reading – because we know that enjoying books on a regular basis leads to improved literacy skills, better educational outcomes and happier children.

But, you know, it is about Australian books, reading and literacy, so perhaps it’s a case of “the ends justifying the means”?

Coinciding with the launch of this new campaign Coles is also running a competition inviting Australian residents (aged 3 to 18) to create their own picture book. There will be prizes and it will be judged by Griffiths. Coles “will donate a book to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation” for every entry. This is not to be sneezed at, and is, hopefully, a case where the combination of financial and social justice goals can generate a positive outcome. Let’s hope it does.

Do you know The tree-house series? What do you think about this sort of marketing-focused initiative – a cynical ploy, or a genuine attempt to do good while increasing business? And, what about the creators? Is it a good thing for them?

58 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2020 11:18 pm

    Do I know the series? The kids at my school loved it to bits and I had to buy each addition to the series the day it came out!
    Yes, supermarkets are all about pester power, but I think this is an excellent idea. Better for the kids, better for the planet than all that plastic…

    • August 4, 2020 2:31 pm

      Exactly. I so agree. Any campaign that leads to free books in children’s hands is nothing but a good one, I think. But hurray as well, for doing away with the plastic rubbish.

      • August 4, 2020 6:13 pm

        Haha, yes, thanks Theresa. I was hoping most people would agree that overall it’s a good thing they are doing, but am prepared to listen to other POVs.

    • August 4, 2020 6:12 pm

      Absolutely Lisa. Glad you agree. I will have to explore this series for our grandson won’t I and it came out after my kids were well grown.

      And yes, it’s the plastic – including the plastic packaging on those “toys” that adds to the waste of it all.

  2. August 3, 2020 11:27 pm

    Very interesting! Even if it is a cynical ploy by the company (which it probably is!), I think it’s still great to get books instead of plastic knick-knacks into kids’ hands. I wonder what’s in it for the authors – from what you’ve said, it doesn’t sounds as if they need the ‘exposure’. I guess it’s a way to push the next series. But amid all the marketing, kids are getting books to read, so that must be a good thing!

    • August 4, 2020 6:19 pm

      Thanks Andrew. And thanks for answering the question about authors. Yes, I think these particular authors don’t need the promotion (or the payment, probably) as much as other others who sometimes become involved in these commercial campaigns do. But of course, it’s because they are so popular that makes them so appealing to the supermarket for their campaign, isn’t it!

  3. August 3, 2020 11:59 pm

    PS There’s a terribly depressing essay in Tegan Bennett Daylight’s new book ‘The Details: On Love, Death and Reading’ which I’m reading because she’s a featured artist at the MWF. It’s about how she has to teach EngLit to wannabe teachers some of whom just don’t read. Anything, anything that gets kids reading is worth trying, I reckon…

    • August 4, 2020 6:21 pm

      Spoken like a teacher and a librarian Lisa. Some wannabe teachers don’t want to read? That’s really sad, particularly if we are talking primary school teachers? I think that’s where the University of Canberra’s novel program is great – if they make sure it is followed through in all courses.

      • August 4, 2020 8:12 pm

        I’ll write it up when I’ve finished reading the book… she doesn’t mince words…

        • August 4, 2020 9:14 pm

          Good for her. I’ve read her short story collection, but would be interested in reading her essays.

    • Sue permalink
      August 4, 2020 8:37 pm

      Lisa sadly that doesn’t surprise me – I remember meeting with a number of primary school teachers who dreaded teaching spelling because they couldn’t spell themselves. I came from a tradition where we still had weekly spelling lessons until 3rd year at High School! I could weep..

    • August 5, 2020 10:34 am

      Reading this book at the moment. It’s beautiful, terrifying and sad.

  4. August 4, 2020 6:52 am

    No, unknown to this old fart. As for Coles’ motivation .. I am entirely sure that they want to be seen to be worthy. Which they are definitely not.
    Mind you, that statement comes from someone whose last (in all senses) home delivery arrived at 11,25 p.m. when it should have been between 8.05 and 9.05, and she had long given up and gone to bed. Plus, it was the second in a row to have turned up very late at night.
    Coles are not people people; and if this marketing campaign spreads good cheer (and reading), it’s a happy accident.
    Wot me ? – nasty ? :\

    • August 4, 2020 6:23 pm

      Haha, M-R, Coles is working hard at being worthy. More and more of the meat is free range, sow-stall free etc. That must be due to consumer demand.

      11.25pm for a grocery delivery? That’s absolutely outrageous. I can understand your being nasty M-R. (“Last (in all senses)” sounds fair enough to me!)

      • August 5, 2020 6:06 am

        Sorry, dear ST: I did my off-topic thing, in truth. I apologize.

  5. August 4, 2020 7:29 am

    I really hope this is the start of a more serious attempt to ditch those useless plastic give aways. There was a great story in UK last year of two young girls who collected the plastic toys given away by McDonalds in their happy meals, put them all on a trolley and took them to McDonalds head office to campaign for them to stop adding to plastic waste with these freebies. McDonalds wouldn’t even speak to them!

  6. Meg permalink
    August 4, 2020 7:44 am

    Hi Sue, I think it is great. My grandsons loved these books, and were always eager to obtain the next one in the series. Cynical, I dislike that word. All business have to make a profit and advertising is required to get people into their shops and buy. Coles, have been clever, and books are much more beneficial to children than some other items. Kids love receiving gifts. I think most kids like to read if encouraged, especially if they begin when young. Before Covid19, I was helping children aged 5 from refugee families to read. They were eager and happy, and loved their reading time.

    • August 4, 2020 7:00 pm

      Thanks Meg. As I realised from what Lisa also said, it’s clear I’m going to have to get across this series.

      Fair enough re the word “cynical”. I’m not a particularly cynical person. It’s all about perspective isn’t it? I think if the marketing has a positive outcome for the wellbeing of others then that’s the important thing. So, putting lollies and sweet goods at the checkout is not good marketing to me (though it may get more money for the supermarket) but offering books as a drawcard sounds good to me!

  7. August 4, 2020 9:16 am

    Kids love them, parents like me not so much, although they are a unique concept. Definitely a money spinner for both parties but the authors are two likeable Aussie blokes who promote literacy and reading.

    Years ago, my daughter was hooked on various children’s literature-based campaigns run by Sunday Courier-Mail newspaper. Small books or stickers and one time a memorable 20 badge Harry Potter collectable series. Win-win situation really…

    • August 4, 2020 7:08 pm

      Ah, thanks Thoughts! Why don’t you like them so much? I’ll be interested to know.

      Newspapers have done some good reading and creativity campaigns over the years haven’t they?

      • August 7, 2020 11:59 am

        It’s hard to explain, Sue, I guess it’s often the underlying story. I haven’t read one for a couple of years but I remember thinking “That was tense and unpleasant”. Quickly resolved by the characters but there nevertheless – sorry, I can’t remember which Storey 😦 Gretchen.

        Love a good REAL newspaper but newsagents and newspapers are fast disappearing.

  8. August 4, 2020 11:02 am

    Great post, Sue! Certainly much better than giving away small plastic products, but I saw that this initiative has already generated controversy because of the books allegedly encouraging violence!

    • August 4, 2020 7:14 pm

      Oh Angharad! Griffiths did say that the books enable kids to break rules in their imagination rather than in reality, which I thought was rather fun. A lot of stories, cartoons, movies, that kids see have violence in them. Is there something particularly terrible about these books do you know?

  9. August 4, 2020 2:30 pm

    My own son loved this series and he was with me yesterday when we were shopping, he’s now 16 mind, and we said yes when asked if we were collecting them. I think it’s fantastic, and my own kids are too old for this series, but we still wanted to have a look and have decided they are too cute to pass up. I’ll keep collecting until I get a set and I’ll pop them onto the shelf with all of our other Andy Griffiths books. I already have a taker for my extras. I’m just so glad they have done away with the small plastic wastage. And honestly, I will support anything that leads to free books in children’s hands.

    • August 4, 2020 7:17 pm

      Oh, that’s lovely Theresa. Isn’t it great when your kids have such fondness for books they read when they were younger?

      • August 4, 2020 7:22 pm

        Yes! My son wanted more shelf space in his room this year and wanted to clear the books out. Not to get rid of, but just relocate. He decided that the majority were keepers!

        • August 4, 2020 9:09 pm

          My daughter keeps asking for more of her books from home … I think she’s nearly go them all down there now. But, a 2BR townhouse doesn’t have a huge amount of space for books, which is a problem! (Though right now I think I wish I was limited. I need to learn to part with books!)

        • August 4, 2020 9:13 pm

          It’s not easy, parting with them. I regularly clear out, but in a half hearted way. There’s nothing ruthless going on!

        • August 4, 2020 9:28 pm

          Haha, Theresa. Mine is very half-hearted. Here I am in my 60s and I’ve nearly go rid of my uni texts (except for the English Lit ones of course!)

        • August 4, 2020 10:23 pm

          Oh, I still have most of those!

        • August 4, 2020 10:27 pm

          Hopeless, eh!

  10. Sue permalink
    August 4, 2020 8:34 pm

    I’m sure it’s completely cynical on Cole’s part, but as long as they’re not plastic and they maybe encourage kids to read books, I’m all for it! I didn’t like Harry Potter but figured if the Harry Potter books encouraged children to read I was all in favour of them. Same with the treehouse booklets from Coles – anything to encourage reading!!!!

    • August 4, 2020 9:21 pm

      I think we are all of the same mind aren’t we?

      BTW I enjoyed the first Harry Potter, and read the second one because I was reading them to my daughter, but half way through the third I was done. Fortunately she was able to read chapter books by herself by then.

      • August 4, 2020 10:05 pm

        I found them very class conscious Sue (at least the first one, I didn’t read any more of them). Also a play on the old British boarding school stories that used to be popular back when I was a kid. However I bow to JK Rowling’s ability to write them and to her success – I wish!

        • August 4, 2020 10:43 pm

          Ah, far enough Sue. I loved boarding school stories when I was growing up. I thought the concept was very clever – loved the mysterious half-station platform for taking kids to wizard school, loved the twist on boarding school but for wizards, but, I always tire of series! I want new characters, new ideas!

        • Neil@kallaroo permalink
          August 7, 2020 2:14 pm

          I guess Mr Gums has to continually re-invent himself.

        • Neil@kallaroo permalink
          August 7, 2020 2:18 pm

          I guess you noted the change of avatar. This is part of the process of building my blog. So far I have a name, a URL, a tag line, an avatar, half a game review, and half an hour’s instruction from a SIL. Don’t hold your breath! Process is moving slower than a melting glacier.

        • August 8, 2020 8:43 pm

          Haha. But I love that you are doing it. You will let us know the name of your blog when it is ready, won’t you?

  11. August 5, 2020 10:40 am

    We got our first bunch of these books yesterday. My kids are well past the targeted age group but they loved the Treehouse series and they asked me to get the groceries at Coles so that we could get the books… Clearly the marketing team at Coles are doing something right!

  12. Neil@kallaroo permalink
    August 10, 2020 7:41 pm

    I read my first booklet today. Story, flip book, colouring in, puzzle, jokes. What a compendium! Apparently these are distilled versions of previously published stories. Perhaps we could get the writer and illustrator to apply the same approach to some classics. Perhaps a 24 booklet version of War and Peace or Ulysses?

    • August 10, 2020 9:30 pm

      Ah thanks, Neil, for getting back. I thought I read that they’d created new content using characters and ideas from the originals. That’s a lot for the tiny package they are. A 24-booklet War and Peace or Ulysses! Yes! Haha!

      (BTW I forgot – we got some at Coles on Saturday. I put them in my bag and then completely forgot. How could I? I hope they are still in my bag. One day I will be back to normal. But I didn’t like that they were packaged! Why!?)

      • Neil@kallaroo permalink
        August 10, 2020 9:56 pm

        They’re packaged because ripping open the package is the most exciting part of the deal. We’re donating ours to our eldest daughter, a teacher. I think she uses them as incentives for her students.

        • August 10, 2020 10:08 pm

          Haha, Neil! But, yes, that’s a great idea for your daughter to use them that way. (Except, won’t her students be getting them themselves?) I notice in a list of them somewhere, that some are listed as “rare” and one or two as “very rare”, presumably encouraging people to keep shopping in the hope of getting the bull collection! That’s a bit cynical I think and undermines, for me, some of the kindly feelings I was having towards Coles.

        • Neil@kallaroo permalink
          August 10, 2020 11:48 pm

          We shop at Coles anyway, so we figure we may as well get the handouts. If we happen to get a rare one, then perhaps we won’t give it to the daughter. Yes, the students get them too, but they may be missing some, hence an incentive appears. We are paying for these, so may as well try and get some use out of them.

        • August 11, 2020 8:16 am

          Yes, so do we … so I felt the same.

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