The illustration chosen by Jones for the table of contents is taken from a page in Rabbit Hill and depicts a conversation between the characters Mole and Willie Fieldmouse. Mole values Willie’s friendship, because it is through the mouse’s eyes that the blind Mole gains important information about the world. Mole depends on Willie to describe how things look and to tell him how big things are. Jones quite likely saw Robert Lawson in this role. Like Willie, Lawson showed readers how things looked when penguins came to live with an ordinary family and how big things might be if they were giants, ogres, or dragons. He was the “eyes” into many stories, including his own, offering imaginative interpretations of the world according to fabulous animals, fantastic creatures, and heroic humans.
Jones relies almost exclusively on the words of Lawson to describe himself, his opinions, and his work. Her selection of these words, taken mostly from Lawson’s letters and writings, creates a portrait of an artist willing to spend months of exhaustive research to ensure the authenticity of his drawings and weeks of experimenting with his illustrations to find the most definitive lines. Jones notes that Lawson would become ill when errors were made in the printing of his illustrations. Lawson obviously expected the same perfection and attention to detail from others that he demanded from himself.
The results of this personal demand for excellence are vividly portrayed in the quality and range of illustrations chosen for this book. Lawson’s style has been labeled...
(The entire section is 652 words.)
Robert Lawson, Illustrator represents a significant contribution to biography for young people. Jones’s familiarity with her subject and his work allowed her to integrate commentary and pictures in a most compelling manner. From thousands of possible illustrations, she selected those most representative in exactly the right numbers to create interest but not to overwhelm young readers. Her grouping of illustrations by theme enables the reader to observe Lawson’s range of artistic techniques in the portrayal of similar subjects.
Jones includes several examples of drawings that demonstrate the limits of the illustrator when he lacked interest in his subjects. These drawings are highly stylized and present a sharp contrast to the vivid portrayals that characterize the bulk of his work. Including these pictures helps the reader to appreciate the high degree of individualization present in his other characters.
Jones was a book editor for forty-three years and was eminently qualified to create a biography of Lawson. As his editor at the Little, Brown publishing company, Jones worked closely with the illustrator on such projects as Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Ben and Me (1939). She does not mention this relationship in the book, which seems typical of her style as a biographer. Her goal, both stated and evident, is to allow the reader to become acquainted with the illustrator through his drawings. This approach to biography for young people is both significant and appropriate, because it allows students to discover what is most important and memorable about Lawson by experiencing his work directly.