In 1945, Elizabeth Orton Jones was awarded the Caldecott Medal of Honor for her illustration in Prayer for a Child. Before that success, however, Jones published a charming and delightful story about a little girl with a very big imagination. TWIG is one of those books that feels like a sweet dream on a warm and sunny afternoon. My seven-year-old daughter particularly appreciated the faerie quality of Twig’s play while my boys appreciated the humor and creative story arc. While I quibble with some of the stylistic choices of the writing, the illustration is full of whimsy, and the story overall is one of the sweetest that I have encountered. Not only does this story enchant, but it also edifies. The lessons that Twig learns are entertaining and empowering. The story generally reminds me of Eloise Wilkin.
Twig is an “ordinary” city girl who lives on the fourth floor of an apartment building. She lives during a simpler and poorer time, which serves to draw out her creativity. Judging from the illustration, Twig is about five or six years old. Twig’s daddy drives a taxi and they live on a block that doesn’t have any green space. As Twig descends through the back porch staircases, she stops to say hello to each of the residents in the apartments below her. That little interlude is charming but feels inconsequential. Later, however, we grin as we see how important it was.
Since Twig’s daddy has to nap during the day (he drives his taxi at night), Twig plays in the back alley of her apartment building. Twig’s resourcefulness is impressive. In that back alley, one lone dandelion grows up in a crack in the concrete. The crack in the concrete holds a little rainwater from a nearby drain pipe. A discarded tomato can turns the whole scene into something “magical.” Twig thinks of the can as a home for a fairy! She positions the can next to the “river” and underneath the dandelion “tree.” A stick of gum serves as a bridge over this peaceful river while a thimble becomes a table for the tomato can home. The setup could not be more creative nor more sweet.
When Twig gets to her play space, she hears the whistling of a tune. Instantly hoping that a fairy found the home and decided to move in, Twig is disappointed when she rushes over to the can only to find it uninhabited. Her disappointment does not last long, however, when instead, she finds a little elf about the size of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Thumbelina.” Within a few pages, Elf has turned Twig into his size and the two spend an entertaining afternoon settling their fairy home.
Here is where some of the style frustrations come in. The story meanders and doesn’t really follow any kind of comfortable path. That said, it probably meanders because Jones just didn’t know how to edit out some of the charming little bits and pieces she wanted to include. This makes for a tricky read aloud, it just doesn’t pour out of my mouth, but would probably be a wonderful way for a young reader to spend a lazy afternoon.
Another quirk about the writing is the use of repetition. Certain phrases, certain expressions, and even certain pages are repeated in sort of awkward ways. Frankly, it feels like a dream sequence where your mind keeps going over certain ideas again and again.
Overall, the story has a very worthy message, endearing characters, delightfully imaginative elements, and perfectly charming illustration. If we can forgive C.S. Lewis for being a bit disorganized in Narnia, I think that we can probably forgive Jones for her hiccups as well. I would say that this one is worth forgiving.
After a long afternoon of playing together, meeting new characters, and generally enjoying some adventures, Twig and Elf must make a decision about whether or not to go to Fairyland. In a heart wrenching decision, Twig decides to stay. In fact, she confesses that she wants to stay. She loves her mama and papa and doesn’t want to leave them. As she says goodbye to her new friends, she ascends that friendly staircase, and stops to say hello to every one of her neighbors. It is then that we see how it all fits together, and we smile.
Out of print for many years, Purple House Press worked with Jones to bring this little treasure back into print, and I am so glad that they did.
As I read this book, I could not escape the sense that this paired with a fairy garden would make a sweet and memorable gift for the little people with big imaginations in our lives.