Friends and Fans Remember "The Phantom Tollbooth" Author Norton Juster

Friends and fans gathered on Twitter this week, after learning of the death of Norton Juster, at 91, author of the beloved 60-year-old fantasy, The Phantom Tollbooth. 

Norton Juster died Monday at age 91.                                                                                                                                              Photo credit: Scholastic

 

Norton Juster would not have sought comfort and solace in social media when someone important to him died. Known only to use email when it was absolutely necessary, the author of the legendary children’s book The Phantom Tollbooth had a blue-checked Twitter account that hadn’t been used in years.

But his friends and fans “gathered” there after learning of death this week at age 91. They shared stories, pictures, and heartfelt testimony of his impact on them.

Mo Willems wrote, “My lunch partner, Norton Juster, ran out of stories & passed peacefully last night. Best known for THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH + THE DOT & THE LINE, Norton’s greatest work was himself: a tapestry of delightful tales. Miss him.”

Jarrett Krosoczka, creator of Hey Kiddo, shared his favorite memory. “To know and love an absolute legend. Rest In Peace, dear Norton Juster. One of the kindest, warmest, most affable members of this children's literature community.

"My fondest memory: Norton supported the school his granddaughter attended long after she left. Every year, he'd bring a different author pal to present. On the way down to the school, we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts. While I was (and am) so used to be constantly on the go, I was surprised that we didn't just hit the Drive Thru.

"Instead, we walked in, Norton ordered our donuts, and then we sat. He laid out napkins for our treats, and we talked. Talked about life, fatherhood, books, ill-fated film adaptations. Norton didn't email, so we played a lot of phone tag. I have all of the voicemails saved to my phone. I will forever be grateful for this beautiful light of a human, and that I got to share in it for a few precious moments.”

And author and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi wrote, “The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my all-time favourite books, helped spark my love of delicious phrases, helped shape me into the writer and illustrator I am today. RIP, Norton Juster.”

Mostly, though, the tweets about Juster were from reader after reader, people who had not become award-winning authors or illustrators, those who had never met him or perhaps once attended a book-signing. They tweeted about The Phantom Tollbooth being their all-time favorite book, the one that made them a lifelong reader or pursue a career as a writer. They wrote of the wordplay and Jules Feiffer’s illustrations and the magical world Juster created.

They posted quote after quote—lines that have followed them from their youth—from The Phantom Tollbooth and other titles, including The Dot and The Line.

  • “Time is a gift, given to you, given to give you the time you need, the time you need to have the time of your life.”
  • "As you've discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don't know they're impossible."
  • "Freedom is not a license for chaos."

In an essay Juster wrote for NPR in 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of the book, he noted that The Phantom Tollbooth was not well-received by the children’s publishing world at first. They didn’t think fantasy was good for kids, and they said the vocabulary was too difficult, according to Juster.

“But my feeling was that there is no such thing as a difficult word,” he wrote.  “There are only words you don't know yet, the kind of liberating words that Milo encounters on his adventure. Today's world of texting and tweeting is quite a different place, but children are still the same as they've always been.”

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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