Florence Parry Heide dies at 92; prolific children's author
Florence Parry Heide, a prolific children's book author best known for her droll illustrated picture book "The Shrinking of Treehorn" and her ability to convey in her writing what it is like to be a child, has died. She was 92.

Heide died in her sleep Monday at her home in Kenosha, Wis., said Judith Heide Gilliland, one of her daughters.

A self-described late bloomer, Heide didn't become a published author until her late 40s when the illustrated picture book she co-wrote — "Maximilian," about a mouse that wished it could fly like a bird — came out in 1967.

She went on to write more than 100 children's books.

"The Shrinking of Treehorn," the witty story of a boy whose shocking discovery that he is shrinking is ignored or dismissed by the adults in his life, was published in 1971 with illustrations by Edward Gorey.

Heide and the illustrator also worked together in the 1980s on two sequels to their acclaimed children's classic: "Treehorn's Treasure" and "Treehorn's Wish."

As an author, her mother "could really get inside a kid's skin. She really knew what it was like," said Gilliland, who collaborated with Heide on three children's picture books set in the Middle East: "The Day of Ahmed's Secret," "The House of Wisdom" and "Sami and the Time of the Troubles."

Gilliland's twin sister, Roxanne Heide Pierce, also collaborated with Heide on numerous picture books and two series: the Spotlight Club mysteries and the Brillstone mysteries. Mother and daughter were working on another Spotlight Club mystery the day before she died.

Up until her death, Heide had been in excellent health and continued to walk about a mile a day along Lake Michigan, Gilliland said.

Heide also regularly corresponded by mail with fans who discovered her as children — and their offspring.

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer discovered Heide when he was asked to do the illustrations for an updated version of her 1969 picture book "Some Things Are Scary."

"They sent me a few pages of text, these essentially one-liners, which I found absolutely captivating because they reminded me of my own work," Feiffer told The Times last week.

One of Heide's lines in the book says, "Getting hugged by someone you don't like is scary."

"The way I illustrated it," said Feiffer, "was to have this monstrously huge, over-the-top woman bodily lifting this little boy and smooshing him, and he is absolutely repelled and terrified. Which is what I remember from childhood, the assault from the overly affectionate grownups who are invariably relatives you can't stand."

Feiffer and Heide connected over the phone before meeting in person at a dinner marking the book's publication in 2000.

"I must say we fell in love with each other," said Feiffer. "She was beautiful and stately and sweet and just evoked kindness and interest and decency. She was like a movie version of a person that used to exist in MGM movies but didn't in real life. But she actually did exist."

A self-proclaimed "expert in happiness," Heide found joy in writing.

"Of course, I'm still writing," she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2001 when she was 82. "I'm trying different things. I'm experimenting. It always keeps you excited.… What could be more wonderful?"

She was born Florence Fisher Parry in Pittsburgh on Feb. 27, 1919. Her father died when she was 2, and she grew up in Punxsutawney, Pa., and Pittsburgh.

After receiving a degree in English from UCLA in 1939, she worked in public relations and advertising in New York.

During World War II, she returned to Pittsburgh, where she met and married Donald Heide, a captain in the Army Air Forces. After the war they moved to Wisconsin, where Donald worked as an attorney and she raised their five children.

She didn't embark on her writing career until after her youngest had enrolled in school.

Her husband died in 1992, and a son, Christen, died in 2004.

In addition to her daughters, she is survived by her sons David and Parry; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com