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Elizabeth Orton Jones; brought whimsy, vibrancy to pages

Elizabeth Orton Jones, 94, an author and illustrator whose life was as colorful as the children's storybooks she created, died Tuesday at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, N.H.

''She was a real small-town artist person. Everybody loved her," said her neighbor Eugene Roe of Greenville, N.H.

Miss Jones, known as ''Twig," wrote or illustrated dozens of children's books. She is perhaps best known for her artwork for the Little Golden Book version of ''Little Red Riding Hood," which was published from 1948 to 1979.

Her home in the forest in Mason, N.H., which she called Misty Meadow and bought on a whim while on a business trip in 1945, served as the model for Little Red Riding Hood's home.

''I pretended she was in my home," Miss Jones said in a story published in the Globe in 1993. ''She was standing right over in there in front of that fireplace. ''

Though born in Illinois, she became closely associated with her adopted hometown. She wrote a history of Mason and compiled a biography of Samuel Wilson, a local character who was the model for star-spangled Uncle Sam. On the opening page of ''Little Red Riding Hood" there is a sign that reads, ''To Mason, N.H."

The 215-year-old cottage at Pickity Place, a Mason restaurant, was the model for the grandmother's home. Miss Jones often did interviews at the restaurant, which is still shaded by the white ash tree featured in the book and is now a shrine of sorts, with framed reproductions of her book and assorted Red Riding Hood souvenirs.

Miss Jones worked incessantly. When her first home became too cluttered with artwork, she bought another house, also in Mason, which she called Rock-A-Bye. She received admirers in Rock-A-Bye, where they were asked to sign a guestbook, though she often went home to Misty Meadow to sleep.

The daughter of a violinist and a pianist, she was born in Highland Park, Ill. As a child she gave school lessons to imaginary friends in her bed using the headboard as a chalk board.

She graduated from the University of Chicago and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and École de Beaux Arts in France.

Her first book, ''Ragman of Paris and His Ragamuffins," published in 1937, was inspired by her trip to France.

Another Book, ''Twig," published in 1942, earned her the nickname that followed her through life.

Though she dedicated her life to writing for children, she never had children. ''I think I would ruin them," she said in 1993. ''I'd either work all the time and they'd run wild, or I'd teach them so much they'd hate me. ''

People were always coming up to her and asking if she was ''the Mrs. Jones" who did ''Little Red Riding Hood."

''She never hesitated to correct them," said another friend, Donald Russell of Greenville. ''She would say, `No, not Mrs. I was never married. I'm Miss Jones."

In 1945 she won the Caldecott Medal for a book she illustrated, ''Prayer for a Child." In her acceptance speech, she said she was reluctant to call herself an artist. ''I think of being an artist as an achievement I may work toward my whole life and even then not arrive," she said. ''Though, I would like to be able to say, right out loud to myself on the morning of my 99th birthday, 'Old girl, you are an artist.' "

A memorial service will be held June 4 at 11 a.m. in Mason Congregational Church.

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