Robert Lawson, Illustrator Critical Essays

Helen L. Jones


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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.)