Review: Miss Twiggley’s Tree By Dorothea Warren Fox

Lately I am loving the idea of sharing an older and sometimes vintage book on Fridays and the one I pulled out today has been an absolute favorite this past year. A book about a quiet, independent woman and her dog who find themselves a bit outcast from the town because of their peculiarities… until disaster strikes the town and they are the kindest and only ones to help. Come be completely charmed and a bit emboldened by Miss Twiggley’s Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox, 1966.

Miss Twiggley is a woman who knows what she likes. She lives as she likes and she does what she likes. Her best companion is her dog whom she named Puss. But unfortunately Miss Twiggley finds herself to be quite shy when people come around. She blames this on the fact that they live in a tree. Did I mention that? Yes, Miss Twiggley and Puss live in a lovely treehouse.

They live quite well and care for each other and even are friendly to bears who come for visits of tea and games. The bears enjoy Miss Twiggley’s company, even though she sometimes sleeps in her hat because she can and they get tired of having to be so neat with her.

But even poor Puss has issues with the town dogs not understanding him. When he runs the household errands and picks up groceries, he is often chased and teased by those mean dogs. But he is always glad to be back at home with Miss Twiggley, high above the ground.

The two’s odd choice of living is distasteful to the people of the town, especially the mayor’s wife. She has much to say about all their choices and decides to demand that her husband, the mayor, remove them from spoiling the town. Though her husband agrees with her concerns, he has larger worries on his mind. A storm is brewing and the weather report is speculating about a wild hurricane.

The report was correct and the rain comes for days to a month plus. It is a massive flood. The town people resort to using whatever floats by to keep themselves afloat. Houses, roads, meadow, everything is under water in a stormy sea… everything except Miss Twiggley’s tree!

Miss Twiggley and Puss saw the weather coming and they prepared their home. But they did more than hunker down alone. They checked their supplies and built extra platforms and strung hammocks and made lots of warm soup. When the wet mayor and many townsfolk float close by, they are ready with open arms to give them shelter. Even when the ashamed and embarrassed mayor’s wife is in the last boat to arrive, Miss Twiggley lovingly takes her in, gives her her own bed, and even a hat to sleep in!

It’s a giant party full of food and games and fellowship. The town people are so grateful for Miss Twiggley now, and even more so, Miss Twiggley realizes that when emergencies come, you forget to be shy. You do the best you can to help.

If you haven’t noticed, this is a very long picture book. Wonderfully long in my opinion, from when books had much more length and a good dose of charm to them. We all adore this story and I’ve even read it for a Zoom story call for our school during the worst of the NYC lockdown last spring. It is a book of kindness and thoughtfulness and finding the helpers in the worst of events. While it feels so much the opposite of what we all need to do during this pandemic – staying home and alone – it still speaks to the same spirit we all tapped into – “when emergencies come, you don’t think of you.”

There is much text to this story and it rhymes as well. Some of the rhymes are perhaps a bit clunky, but the long rhyming text is a great deal of the charm of the story. It is fun and clever and old-school.

And I of course adore the illustrations. These are the kind that I can pore over for hours. Dorothea Warren Fox’s style is so interesting. Lots of details and so much story in each image. I am especially smitten with the dog Puss. His character is hilarious and the odd bits of anthropomorphic moments of him in an apron or raincoat or talking expressively to Miss Twiggley or even playing a board game are just so fun.

This is a long picture book that I can read again and again. It has a point and a moral of sorts without being saccharine. It is memorable and delightful, very vintage – obviously lacking in diversity of any kind – but lovely and thoughtful too. This is a gem, as is Miss Twiggley and her special tree.

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