Lawson’s career as an illustrator is best know from The Story of Ferdinand (1936), and Mr. Popper’s Penguins (1939). But his first effort was for a truly terrible sounding book, The Wonderful Adventures of Little Prince Toofat (1922). He also illustrated for, among others, Margery Williams (of Velveteen Rabbit fame, though he didn’t illustrate that). Over the years you can see the emergence of Lawson’s characteristic style (left to right: frontispiece from Prince Toofat; The Wee Men of Ballywooden; From the Horn of the Moon; The Hurdy-Gurdy Man).
After his success with authoring Ben and Me (1939), he wrote three more books with the same concept — a historical character seen through the eyes of a companion animal. These were I Discover Columbus (1941), Mr. Revere and I (1953), and Captain Kidd’s Cat (1956).
He also tried his hand at several other kinds of stories. His next effort after Ben and Me was They Were Strong and Good (1940), a fictionalized account of some of his ancestors. The irony of the book’s title was apparently lost on him when he was writing about his family owning slaves, or looking down on the Native Americans whose land they were squatting on. Lawson’s toe-the-line patriotism (“None of them were great or famous, but they were strong and good. They worked hard and had many children. They all helped to make the United States the great nation that it now is. Let us be proud of them and guard well the heritage they have left us.“) strikes me as particularly nauseous, as I am currently reading some works by post-Civil-War black authors like Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. duBois. I’m kind of fed up to my teeth with the excuse that people didn’t know any better back in 1940. They knew perfectly well. They just thought it was A-OK.
Rabbit Hill (1944) is very much in the tradition of folksy fables peopled by talking animals. Mr. Twigg’s Mistake (1947) is about an overdose of vitamins that causes things to grow outlandishly big. Neither of them are especially interesting or well-written by today’s standards, and both contain hints of racism.
Overall, I would count Robert Lawson as “Overrated.” I find his drawing style unappealing (stiff and unnatural on a large scale, creepily over-realistic in the details), though he initially earned his reputation as an illustrator. And he never became more than a merely adequate story-teller, though he rode the wave a couple of high-profile awards.
Still, I did enjoy Mr. Revere and I.