Kids in charge: forts and hideouts

Remember how good it felt to discover a secret hideout? Build your own den? Imagine a land where you're in charge?

Some of the children in these picturebooks are playing alone, others are negotiating relationships with friends and siblings. Some are free to roam, some never leave their rooms. But no matter who or where they are, these kids are taking this thing seriously - the power and joy and responsibility of creating a brand new world and living there.

Hannah's special hideout only exists in a drawing, but Weslandia is a whole backyard kingdom complete with language, food and costume - an experience that will have a profound influence on Wesley's future wellbeing. The imaginary spaces in today's Cast of Thousands collection may vary, but they're linked by something very special - a profound belief in the importance of children making their own imaginary worlds and having agency over them.

Needless to say, all these titles make great starting points for discussion, creative exploration and cross-curricular activities, too!

If you would like to buy any of these books, please visit the Cast of Thousands bookshop at uk.bookshop.org

You'll find these titles on our Forts and Hideouts...Kids in Charge! booklist, to view it click HERE

Cast of Thousands receives a small commission on every purchase, helping us stay independent and freely accessible for everyone.
 The Hideout by Susanna Mattiangeli, illustrated by Felicita Sala, published by Abrams

Hannah's family are calling for her, but it's too late, Hannah's already left the house. She's camping in a hideout in the park, where she and her friend, the Odd Furry Creature, dress themselves in feathers, sleep on leaves and roast pigeons for their supper. They stay there so long that the bushes grow around them, and no-one thinks to look inside the wiry tangle of branches where they've made their home...
This wonderful book celebrates imagination, creativity and the power of being in charge, and will delight children from about the age of four - although there's plenty here to engage older readers, too.

Build on your reading experience by
  • Finding and enjoying a secret hideout of your own
  • Collecting and curating found natural objects
  • Making capes from paper feathers
  • Trying some campfire cookery
  • Telling this story from the Odd Furry Creature's point of view
  • Learning survival skills
  • Designing and constructing dens
  • Drawing pictures and writing stories about your own imaginary adventures

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes is published by Walker Books 


Wesley refuses to shave half his head, like all the other boys, and he won't play sports. He just doesn't fit in - not at school, not even at home. But imagination, independence and tenacity are exactly what Wesley needs to mastermind an amazing summer project - founding a new civilsation in his own backyard.  

Illustrated in vibrant colours in a way that brings the story and its emotional lanscape vividly to life, this unusual picturebook shows how one crop - an odd new species with bright red flowers - provides Wesley with clothing, food, cosmetics, a counting system, sports and recreation, even a language. Little by little Wesley's former tormentors are drawn into the fun - and by the time school starts again, Wesley's life has been transformed.

This hugely appealing picturebook takes what could be a rather worthy subject and turns it into something engaging, thoughtful and deeply satisfying. 

Build on your reading experience by
  • Finding out about early civilsations and what enabled them to thrive
  • Making up new games, writing rules and playing them
  • Trying some Base 8 maths (and exploring the number 8)
  • Making plant-based food, cosmetics and drinks
  • Weaving cloth from a variety of fibres
  • Exploring dfferent fruits and cooking with them
  • Talking about fashions, peer pressure and bullying

Cornelia and the Jungle Machine by Nora Brech, published by Gecko Press


Cornelia's family have just moved house, but Cornelia doesn't want to live in a hilltop mansion full of strange, old objects - it isn't fair! Everything changes, though, when she finds a rope-ladder in the forest and discovers an amazing treehouse. It's home to Fredrik, who has a room full of inventions - including the amazing JUNGLE MACHINE! Hold on tight....!
Nora Brech's intriguing illustrations have a darkly gothic atmosphere, and the many wordless spreads in this large-format picturebook invite us to step into her surreal and highly-detailed world. Cornelia and Fredrik's fantastic jungle adventures are like snapshots, prompting us to imagine so much more than we're being shown.

Sophisticated fun for readers from about 4+ right through to Upper Key Stage 2.

Build on your reading experience by
  • Designing your own imaginary treehouse or surreal invention
  • Creating a jungle-themed reading corner with paper vines (and other props?)
  • Telling the story from the dog's perspective
  • Drawing another jungle adventure to add to the book
  • Writing about one of the wordless spreads - a description, story, poem...
Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley, published by Walker Books


Two sisters have very different ideas about playing out. Big Sister wants to read her book, but Little Sister wants to do something much more active.
"Fine!" says Little, when Big won't budge. "I can play by myself.... I HAVE A SECRET TREE FORT AND YOU'RE NOT INVITED!"
The descriptions and depictions of the Tree Fort in all its splendour - pulley-basket for snacks, system of flag-semaphore, underwater viewing area -  are hilariously engaging, and the ensuing sisterly argument (and its resolution) is spot on.  
There's lots here to entertain readers from about 4+ right through to about 10 or so, depending on how you choose to share the book. 

Build on your reading experience by
  • Designing and writing about imaginary tree-forts
  • Creating and testing tree-fort contraptions made from recycled junk
  • Building a water balloon launcher and seeing how far you can launch a full balloon
  • Collecting and curating found objects
  • Exploring friendship, arguments and resolving differences through drama and discussion
Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney is published by HarperCollins


Long ago and far away on a desert hillside studded with cactus and thorny ocatillo, a group of children play together in an imaginary land called Roxaboxen. Using stones to trace the outlines of buildings and streets in the sand, the children create a town where they trade imaginary pies, ice creams and other goods for the smooth, black pebbles they find lying all around. Some ride invisible horses across the hillside while imaginary cars speed others across the desert (and sometimes land them in the cactus jail...) Roxaboxen can be anything these children want, and its memory will never fade.

This affectionate and evocative depiction of childhood friendship and shared imaginative play will appeal to readers from about 6 up.

Build on your reading experience by
  • Collecting memories about imaginary places and shared games, and illustrating them
  • Using stones or other markers to outline your own imaginary town, and mapping it
  • Playing old-fashioned team games as Roxaboxen's Bandits or Scouts
  • Discussing how to run your imaginary town - how should people behave? What laws will you enforce, and why?
Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Huggins and Emily Hughes, published by Chronicle Books


"Everything you need for a treehouse starts with time and looking up..."

In lyrical prose, Carter Higgins delivers practical, friendly advice on how to choose the right tree, construct your treehouse and enjoy it with your friends. "Make sure your sleeping bag doesn't have holes," she reminds us. "You'll need a flashlight so you can make your own sky..."

Emily Hughes' illustrations transform this appealing text into something really magical, picking up on details and developing them in flights of imaginative fantasy that capture the timeless essence of this book. Readers from about 3 right up to 12 or so will be drawn into these worlds and feel the thrill of possibility and challenge.

Build on your reading experience by
  • Designing, drawing, modelling and writing about your ideal treehouse
  • Going on a woodland expedition and getting to know the trees 
  • Choosing stories for your treehouse bookshelf (and sharing them)
  • Creating a shadow-puppet show
  • Hosting your own sleepout!
On Sudden Hill by Linda Sarah and Benji Davies, published by Simon and Schuster


Playing out on the hill with their cardboard boxes, Birt and Etho are the best of friends. They don't need much - those boxes can become anything, or take them anywhere. Besides, they have each other. Then Shu arrives. He's "finally found a big enough box, and the courage to ask if he can play, too." Things should be fine, but little by little Birt stops going up Sudden Hill. It's not the same now Shu is there.

Luckily for Birt, Etho and Shu know something is wrong, and better still, they know how to put it right - by arriving at Birt's house with an exciting box-on-wheels that's big enough for all of them.

In this gentle and perceptive story, Linda Sarah involves readers in the complex dynamics of childhood friendship and shows how empathy and insight can bring big rewards. This is an upbeat story set in glorious countryside and Benji Davies' illustrations are warm and welcoming, but there's more than a hint of parental disengagement and rural deprivation here, too.

Recommended for children from about 3-7 years.

Build on your reading experience by
  • Using large cardboard boxes to design and build structures and objects
  • Exploring an outdoor space and getting to know it really well (in all weathers...!)
  • Talking about anger and sadness, and how to look after your friends
  • Making your own Mr ClimbFierce!
Copyright: Cast of Thousands 2020 All rights reserved.
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