New Fairfield author’s book reborn

New Fairfield author’s book reborn
by Eileen FitzGerald
The News-Times. Danbury, CT
News-Times file photo
January 27, 2003

Dorothea Fox admires the weeping willow tree that was the inspiration for her children’s book “Miss Twiggley’s Tree.” Fox died in 1999, but her children are pleased the book has been reprinted.

The stately weeping willow enfolded a child’s treehouse as it stood in the New Fairfield woods until toppled by a storm in 1995. By then, Dorothea Warren Fox had made the aged sanctuary a legend through her children’s book, “Miss Twiggley’s Tree.” Miss Twiggley was a shy, old woman who hid from people in a treehouse, sent her dog shopping for her and entertained bears. The community shunned her for her eccentricity until a storm flooded the town and she welcomed neighbors to take refuge in her tree house.

The book was published in 1966, but was out of print by the end of the decade. Fans who had read it as children began filling pages on Internet Web sites, talking about the story and lamenting its disappearance. Used copies sold for several hundred dollars apiece.

This fall, Jill Morgan, a fan of the book from her childhood, reprinted “Miss Twiggley’s Tree” at her publishing house, Purple House Press in Texas. Kelli Bixler, another fan, produced a clay-animated video.

For Fox’s four adult children, Charles, Becky, Robert and Catlin, the reprinting is a tribute to their mother, who died in 1999 at the age of 85.

“It’s wonderful to have the book in print,” said Charles Fox from his Boston home. “The night before she died, she had a wonderful dinner with my brother, Bob, and my mother said her one regret was she never could get Miss Twiggley reissued.”

“Miss Twiggley’s Tree” was inspired at the end of one summer when her children had returned to school. Fox looked out the window to see an adult neighbor visiting the treehouse and swinging from the rope with a pipe in his mouth. She began the story with a verse. She and her husband, Charles, worked together on the illustrations.

Robert Fox of Ridgefield built the treehouse with his friends when he was 12 and played in it throughout high school. “I remember her working on the book in my senior year but to me it was just more stuff that she was doing. I don’t think I understood how wonderful it was,” Robert Fox said. “There were so many wonderful things about my mother and I think the rebirth of this book is a reaffirmation of how wonderful and talented and special she was,” Robert said. “It’s awfully nice.”

Becky Fox Rice, the second oldest child in the family, is delighted the story is getting a new life and attracting a new generation of young readers. She thought the story was popular because it was not about a manufactured crisis, but one that grown-ups face. Miss Twiggley handled it effectively and with kindness. “That (kindness) was instinctive with my mother and it’s something all of us take for granted, that this is the way things need to be and that crises can always be handled if we pull together,” Rice said from her Florida home.

As a freelance illustrator, Fox’s credits included “Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care,” “Mr. Hobb’s Vacation,” covers for Parents’ magazine, advertisements for clients such as Ivory Soap and cards for Hallmark.

The book earned Parents’ magazine’s Silver Award. This time, Charles Fox shepherded its reprinting after buying the copyright about 10 years ago.

Catlin Fox, who lives in Vermont, was about 11 years old when his mother wrote the book. “I remember how much pleasure it gave both my parents when it came out the first time,” he said.

When a child reads a book, the author often doesn’t have feedback about the story, Catlin said. In this case, parents who read the book as children and wanted it for their children provided feedback to his mother.

“She got a hint of that before she died,” Catlin said. “It’s a wonderful thing it’s been reprinted.”

Jill Morgan started Purple House Press in Keller, Texas, three years ago when her favorite children’s book, “Mr. Pine’s Purple House” became scarce. Since then, the company has reprinted 16 out-of-print titles, including “Miss Twiggley’s Tree” and “The Mad Scientist’s Club.”

Morgan said she remembers “Miss Twiggley” from her childhood. “I liked her because she was different but in the end, people accepted her. She was her own person, and wouldn’t let people turn her into what she didn’t want to be,” Morgan said, “and she saved them in the end.”

Rice and Charles Fox saw elements of their mother and grandmother in Miss Twiggley. Their father’s reclusiveness played a role as well.

Rice said she had trouble pinpointing what made her mother special.

“I think it was her sparkle, her love of life, her lack of pretense and her amazing creativity. She was never without a pad and pencil. She would sketch things constantly and she would write poetry, couplets and verses. Her creativity spilled out until the day she died,” Rice said.

Charles Fox said he saw his mother in Miss Twiggley, and also his grandmother who lived in Alabama and would come up in the summer to visit.

“But,” he said, “what I think distinguished my mother was that everything was an adventure.”