She is the childhood incarnation of Elizabeth Orton Jones, who discovered that the power of story is unlimited in those willing to nurture it, to believe anything is possible if you can conceive of and imagine it through to the end. The rear of her four-story apartment house is drawn in loving detail opposite the title page: the zigzag stairs leading down to the alley out back, the buildings pressing close on either side, the fence enclosing a makeshift backyard for Twig to play in. There isn't much to be entertained by back here, so Twig has set up an old tomato can on the ground as a rudimentary fairy house. Elf is his name, and he'd be glad to inhabit Twig's fairy house. Elf brings home some fantastic surprises, including a little set of wings that allows Twig to fly above her apartment house without Sparrow or the Mrs. having to take her up. A visiting fairy Queen and a great magician offer to show Twig and Elf parts of the world beyond their imagination. There are no bounds to the fantasy created in Twig's backyard, and all the companionship she could want is right here between the back of her apartment house and the rickety old fence. Tiny people don't materialize on library steps every day, and there's a reason why Elf showed up at the right moment for Mrs. Sparrow to meet him. Elf relates that experience to Twig, and it's nothing like the "Elves and the Shoemaker" retread she expects; the story ran off the rails weirdly, everything going wrong and spoiling the possibility for a happy ending. Sad, desperate, and cross with the shoemaker over what he wanted to wish for from the elf, the man's wife wishes she could start the story all over. A peculiar ending for a fairy tale, but it plays a huge role in what happens next for Twig and Elf. Twig is pleased with the knickknacks Elf retrieves to decorate the tomato can house...until he brings a pet. Elf is tickled pink to haul a squirmy insect named Chummie to his new tin house, but Twig is not thrilled. It's surprising and bittersweet when Twig sets the table, straightens up the house, and the story restarts from just before Elf brought Chummie, only this time, he doesn't. Oh, how we would love to be able to set our own story right that easily, erasing mistakes that mar the course of our life. A pair of yellow wings that grant them freedom to soar like the Sparrows, and elevated perspective on Twig's backyard and the miniature estate she built for her and Elf. The story shifts when Sparrow returns, and has the fairy Queen with him. As Twig does, we may wish our ideal story stretched on eternally in comfort and peace so we would never have to live with less, but the Queen assures her there's solace in an ending. Life can be lonesome and we're not sure what enduring effect we have on the world, but our story matters, Twig realizes at the end of this book as she looks into the darkening sky. And pretty soon she saw a little tiny star, no bigger than a toothpaste top, come out right above the back yard.
And then I'll read a book like Twig and think, oh, right, here she is. Maybe it was the little fairy house with the stick-of-gum bridge that I wanted so badly to walk over, the shiny paper that she used as a mirror. "Honestly, Elf!" Twig is a city girl living in what they call a simpler time--the iceman comes in a horse-drawn buggy to deliver the ice to her apartment building, and everyone listens to the radio. Twig says hello to everyone and hangs around in the tiny city backyard with no company but the iceman's horse and a stray cat she's called Old Girl. Both books have main characters who encounter strange things when they wander innocently around their apartments and play in the yard, although Coraline descends into terrifying madness and Twig remains sweet as old-fashioned stick candy throughout. Mrs. Sparrow, who lives in the backyard's one large tree, gets off her eggs to search for her flyaway husband, pitying Twig, who, she thinks, doesn't have much chance of seeing a fairy--not in the city. Disappointed by this, Twig, like a true old-time girl, runs into the house and sweeps until she feels better. She could be yelling at Elf. Not that she doesn't do a little yelling at Elf during the course of the story, but for the most part they get along well, and they settle down in the tin-can house just like Peter and Wendy. The author has a little girl's love for things in miniature--those toothpaste-cap dishes, for instance--and it's this that enables her to think of things like Elf bringing Twig "a set of wings" with "six little points" that she can fasten them to her dress with. He's an obnoxious, lovable little guy who shouts just like the announcer on Blondie's radio earlier in the story, and with him is a fairy, a more fairy-like sort than Elf. Out of concern for Twig's plight, you see, Mr. Sparrow went all the way to Fairyland and brought back the Queen. She wears a "smart little brown fur" which crawls away when Elf touches it (it's a caterpillar), and she listens while Old Girl the cat howls out an impressive concert atop a garbage can.
Gum wrappers, tomato cans, and the nest of sparrows are just a few of the mundane objects that become extraordinary when a little elf (escaped from a library book) visits Twig's backyard.