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Three chapters relate the experiences and adventures of three 1880s Pennsylvania farm children in their family tree house, which serves as a refuge, a source of adventure, a lookout post, and a frightening dragon's lair.
Tom, Natty, and Emily play at being Civil War generals, with their treehouse as a fort, but Natty fears the stump it sits on, saying that a dragon lives there. How Tom unmasks the dragon, and learns a bit about Zeke, the hired hand, as well as about the art of storytelling, are at the heart of this first chapter. In the second, Emily longs to ride in the competition at the county fair, but her mother insists that ladies don't ride at full gallop. Emily gets to ride a horse fast and hard and capture a thief at the same time. In the third tale, Natty takes the story of George Washington and the cherry tree as a metaphor for making his own choices in a dilemma involving parental expectations—and lambs. Some of the casual conversation is spot on, e.g., when Natty realizes with distaste that his sister is a girl: " `Girl!' he said, as if he had been told his sister was a snail." The black-and-white illustrations are warm and with just enough exaggeration to match the tale-telling.