A quick life of the great fantasist is given wings by allusive painted illustrations.
Aimed at children who know The Hobbit but aren’t quite up to tackling it on their own, the narrative takes “Ronald” from birth in South Africa through transplantation to England, experiences in World War I and postwar life up to the publication of Lord of the Rings. The selection of detail isn’t particularly discriminating. Intriguing information such as the famous anecdote about how the first line of The Hobbit popped into his head out of nowhere or notes about Gandalf’s origin and a relative’s farm called “Bag’s End” is interspersed with eye-glazing references to childhood changes of address or the formation of the Tolkien Society. The art provides a more studied route into the author’s imagination and achievements. Prettily rendered in soft lines and muted colors, it’s framed as a winding board game decorated with thematic words, depictions of elves and dragons, views of the author and his family at various ages, simple codes and highlighted scenes, all capped by facing portraits of Tolkien (“I am in fact a hobbit in all but size”) and Bilbo Baggins.
Beguiling art props up a profile that reads like a school report. (timeline, bibliography, notes) (Picture book/biography. 7-9)