Elizabeth Orton Jones
(b. 1910)
A wonderful illustrator of many books, Elizabeth Orton Jones is perhaps best remembered for the books she wrote as well as illustrated; the affection she had for her subject cannot help but shine through.

Childhood

Elizabeth Orton Jones was born on June 25, 1910 in Highland Park, Illinois. Her parents were George Roberts Jones, a musician, and Jessie Mae Orton. In a home filled with music and literature, young Elizabeth soaked it all up. Culture was added to the mix with the hiring of two Bohemian girls as cook and nurse of the household. They enriched her imagination with colorful tales, dancing and singing and cooking delicious Bohemian food. Add to this mix the fact that her grandfather owned a bookstore in Geneva, New York and it is no wonder that Elizabeth took to writing and drawing at an early age. A brother and sister later joined the family.

Like many gifted children, Elizabeth found creative outlets for her imagination. Giving school lessons to an imaginary set of friends each night in bed, she would use her headboard for a chalkboard, erasing the evidence of the night’s lecture the next morning. The Jones children invented their own language called Beagle Language, named after one of their favorite playmates, a beagle–hound. Elizabeth enjoyed setting up tasks for herself, such as reading the complete Bible or staying up all night.

Education

Jones received a Ph. B. from the University of Chicago in 1932 and briefly attended the Art Institute of Chicago. Jones then traveled to Paris and spent a year studying at the École des Beaux Arts in Fontainebleau, France. When she returned, she had a one-man show at the Smithsonian Institution of her color etchings of French children.

Professional Career

After her return from Paris, Jones sat down to write and illustrate her first book, Ragman of Paris and His Ragamuffins published in 1937, using her experiences in France as material for the book. Jones used many experiences from her life in her books—Maninka’s Children was influenced by the two Bohemian girls she knew as a child.

In 1944, Jones’s book, Small Rain: Verses from the Bible that was edited by her mother, was chosen as a Caldecott Honor Book, but the very next year, Prayer for a Child, written by Rachel Field and illustrated by Jones, was the winner of the coveted Caldecott Medal.

While on a business trip in 1945, Jones visited New Hampshire for the first time. The beautiful landscape immediately caught her attention and imagination and she decided to stay. It was her old house in Mason that served as the model for Little Red Riding Hood’s house, in what is one of America’s best-loved versions of the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, published by Golden Books from 1948 to 1979.

Jones, or Twig as they call her in Mason, after the name of one of her books (indeed, many do not even know her real name), has become a revered member of the town. Not because she is famous or has won the Caldecott Medal, but because she has been directly involved in recording and teaching the history of the town.

Jones will turn 90 years old in June of 2000. In her Caldecott Medal acceptance speech she speaks about how she does not consider herself an artist:

“The very word “artist,” to me, carries with it a little vision of the state of having arrived. I think of being an artist as an achievement I may work toward my whole life and even then not arrive. Though I should like to be able to say, right out loud to myself, on the morning of my 99th birthday, “Old girl, you are an artist!”
I think she just may make it.

Raison d’Être

Just why did Jones choose to be an illustrator? I’m guessing but I believe that it was the profession that chose Jones, not the other way around. It was her love and respect for children that brought her to illustrate children’s books as this passage from her Caldecott Medal acceptance speech reveals:

“I should like, if you don’t mind, to accept the Caldecott Medal, and the honor that goes with it, as a trust. I should like to try to express my gratitude for that trust on every page of every book I’m ever to make—for children.”
And from Illustrators of Children’s Books 1946—1956:
“I have also done etchings, murals, greeting cards, posters, talks, articles—all for, about, depicting, or in the interest of: children. By addition, not subtraction, changes come: one’s age, activities, geographical location. But a strong taproot nourishes and maintains an essential pattern. Mine is an extraordinarily abundant adulthood: much work, much fun, much quietness. I am always writing or drawing, always wanting to do something special for all my little brothers and sisters, here in our small New England town, and everywhere else—the world over.”


Children’s Books Written and Illustrated

  • Ragman of Paris and His Ragamuffins, Oxford University Press, 1937.

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  • Minnie the Mermaid (with Thomas Orton Jones), Oxford University Press, 1939.

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  • Maminka’s Children, Macmillan, 1940, reissued, 1968.

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  • Twig, Macmillan, 1942, reissued, 1966. 

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  • Big Susan, Macmillan, 1947, reissued, 1967.

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  • Little Red Riding Hood (reteller), Simon & Schuster, 1948. 

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  • How Far Is It to Bethlehem?, Horn Book, 1955.


Children’s Books Illustrated

  • Bible, David, Macmillan, 1937.

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  • Adshead, Gladys L., Brownies—Hush!, Oxford University Press, 1938, reissued, Walck, 1966.

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  • Meigs, Cornelia Lynde, Scarlet Oak, Macmillan, 1938.

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  • Association for Childhood Education, Told under the Magic Umbrella: Modern Fanciful Stories for Young Children, Macmillan, 1939, reissued, 1967.

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  • Hunt, Mabel Leigh, Peddler’s Clock, Grosset, 1943.

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  • Jones, Jessie Mae, editor, Small Rain: Verses from the Bible, Viking, 1943, reissued, 1974.

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  • Field, Rachel, Prayers for a Child, Macmillan, 1944, reissued, 1973.

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  • Adshead, Gladys L., What Miranda Knew, New York, Oxford University Press, 1944.

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  • Farjeon, Eleanor, Prayer for Little Things, Houghton, 1945.

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  • Jones, Jessie Orton, Secrets, New York, Viking, 1945.

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  • Jones, Jessie Mae, Little Child—The Christmas Miracle Told in Bible Verses, New York, Viking, 1946.

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  • Jones, Jessie Mae, editor, This Is the Way: Prayers and Precepts from World Religions, Viking, 1951.

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  • St. Francis of Assisi, Song of the Sun, Macmillan, 1952.

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  • Thurman, Howard, Deep River, Harper, 1955.

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  • Bridgman, Elizabeth, Lullaby for Eggs, Macmillan, 1955.

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  • Trent, Robbie, To Church We Go, Follett, 1956.
Elizabeth Orton Jones Biography and Gallery at the University of Oregon
(This site will open in a new window.)
The Household Magazine,
December, 1935.
Association for Childhood
Education, Told under the
Magic Umbrella: Modern
Fanciful Stories for Young
Children, Macmillan, 1939
Hunt, Mabel Leigh,
Peddler’s Clock, Grosset,
1943.
Hunt, Mabel Leigh,
Peddler’s Clock, Grosset,
1943.
Hunt, Mabel Leigh,
Peddler’s Clock, Grosset,
1943.
Jones, Jessie Orton,
Small Rain, New York,
Viking Press, 1943.
Jones, Jessie Orton,
Small Rain, New York,
Viking Press, 1943.
Field, Rachel, Prayers for
a Child, Macmillan, 1944,
reissued, 1973.
Field, Rachel, Prayers for
a Child, Macmillan, 1944,
reissued, 1973.
Farjeon, Eleanor, Prayer 
or Little Things,
Houghton, 1945.
Big Susan, Macmillan,
1947, reissued, 1967.
Big Susan, Macmillan,
1947, reissued, 1967.
Little Red Riding Hood
(reteller), Simon &
Schuster, 1948.
Little Red Riding Hood
(reteller), Simon &
Schuster, 1948.
Jones, Jessie Orton, Small Rain, New York, Viking Press, 1943.

Sources

Commire, Anne, Something about the Author, Volume 18, Detroit, Gale Research, 1980. 
Davis, William A., I, "Upcountry, close by", 2/28/98.
Miller, Bertha Mahony and Field, Elinor Whitney, Caldecott Medal Books: 1938–1957, Boston: Horn Book, 1957.
Miller, Bertha Mahoney et al., Illustrator's of Children's Books 1946–1956, Boston, Horn Book, 1958.
Mason Biographies, http://home.earthlink.net/~georgeo/mason_biographies.htm, 4/27/2000.
© 2000–2002 Denise Ortakales
All Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page last updated on 24 August 2002.

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