Elizabeth Orton Jones was born to an artistic and literary family. Her father was a violinist and her mother a pianist and writer.
She grew up with two siblings in a home filled with music, reading aloud, and encouragement to draw, think, and imagine. She attended House in the Pines, a private high school for girls, where she won a prize for English composition. She received a degree from the University of Chicago, and went to France to study painting at the École des Beaux Arts in Fontainebleau and the Académie Colarossi in Paris. Back in the USA, she studied briefly at the Art Institute of Chicago School. In 1937, she wrote and illustrated her first book, Ragman of Paris and His Ragamuffins, using her experiences in France as material. In 1945, she won the Caldecott Medal for her illustrations in Prayer for a Child (1944), written by Rachel Field. Her edition of Little Red Riding Hood, published by Little Golden Books in 1948, became a classic. During her career, she wrote and illustrated some 20 books for children. She also created murals for the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield, New Hampshire and a panel in the children's room of the University of New Hampshire library.