Robert Lawson, Illustrator Essay - Critical Context

Helen L. Jones

Critical Context

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.