Picture book artist Ann Jonas remembers two specific books from her childhood: a cloth alphabet book, and Now We Are Six, a Winnie-the-Pooh book by A. A. Milne. Although children's books did not saturate her youth, children's picture books have played a significant role in her adult life.
Jonas's family shared an appreciation for art. Jonas grew up with an artistic mother who painted, sewed, and played the piano. Even her father, who worked as a mechanical engineer, painted now and then; art was encouraged as a pastime in the household. Mostly, though, Jonas recalls that her family "attached great importance to knowing how to do as many things as possible, from skating to skiing to cabinet-making to repairing the family car. Everyone always had several projects going at the same time, and drawing was considered an incidental skill, a tool for planning a project rather than an end in itself."
Born in 1932 in Flushing, New York, Jonas had a happy childhood on Long Island. Summers were filled with carefree days spent playing all over the neighborhood with her friends and younger brother. Her grand passion became horseback riding, which necessitated her taking babysitting jobs to fund the rides. Jonas's artistic talent was recognized and nurtured by her parents, and she fondly remembers one special school year when she and a boy were singled out as the class artists. The two children had the distinction of being asked to design and paint sets for plays and to produce decorations for many special occasions at school.
Jonas held several uninspiring jobs after high school graduation, leading her to seek training at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a private, full-scholarship college in New York. Following graduation, she worked in the graphic design studio of a former Cooper Union instructor. Jonas married another Cooper Union graduate and graphic artist, Donald Crews. His U.S. Army service took them to Frankfurt, Germany, for one-and-a-half years, where Jonas secured a job with a German advertising agency. Having looked forward to exposure to the renowned Swiss and German design influences there, she was disappointed to spend most of her time creating beer advertisements. The couple's first daughter, Nina, was born while they lived in Germany.
Back in the United States, the two artists began a freelance design business in New York. Jonas continued her work in graphic art after the birth of the couple's second daughter, Amy; subsequently, Jonas's husband began to focus on illustrating children's books. It was not until their daughters were almost ready for college that Jonas wrote and illustrated a children's book, When You Were a Baby (1982). Jonas's husband and his editor, Susan Hirschman, had urged her to try her hand at creating picture books. Perhaps her daughters' imminent departures for college brought back fond memories of their toddler years and provided Jonas with the fodder for her first book, a book that she says "came together very quickly."
More books followed, beginning with Two Bear Cubs (1982) and Round Trip (1983). Round Trip is a journey into the abstract as readers follow one storyline to the end of the book and then flip the book upside down to see the black-and-white pictures almost magically transposed into other forms.
" I've been trying to explore various ways of stretching children's imaginations. I find myself drawn more and more often to designing books that involve some sort of visual play, " Jonas explains. Indeed, books such as The Quilt (1984) and The Trek (1989) embody the kind of visual games that children appreciate. While Aardvarks, Disembark! (1990) depicts alphabetically arranged obscure, endangered, or extinct animal species as they leave Noah's ark, Bird Talk (1999) entertains with funny bird "conversations" while piquing an interest in birding.
Jonas and her husband live in the state of New York in an old, restored farmhouse overlooking the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains. They share a large studio behind the house and look forward to visits from their offspring--Nina, a photographer and picture book creator, and Amy, a landscape architect, her husband, an architect, and their two young sons.
Though Ann Jonas never planned to be a picture book artist, she revels in the possibilities children's books provide. "If I can stretch a child's imagination and deal, even if only lightly, with some of a child's deeper concerns, then I feel that I've served him or her as well as I can," she declares.