Norton Juster, author of the acclaimed modern classic children’s books The Phantom Tollbooth and The Dot and the Line, died last night. He was 91.
His death was confirmed by Penguin Random House. Additional details were not immediately available.
Both of Juster’s most well-known works of the early 1960s were adapted for film, in collaboration with animator Chuck Jones: The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, first published by Random House in 1963, was adapted by Jones and MGM Animation into an Oscar-winning 1965 10-minute short film. The Phantom Tollbooth, published by Random House in 1961 with illustrations by Juster’s friend Jules Feiffer, was adapted in 1970 as a live-action/animated fantasy film, directed by Jones and Abe Levitow, with Dave Monahan directed the live-action segments.
In 2017, Deadline reported that TriStar had set Matt Shakman to direct a new film version of The Phantom Tollbooth, with a script by Michael Vukadinovich and Phil Johnston (Wreck-It Ralph 2).
Considered to be one of the most influential and popular children’s book authors of his generation, Juster combined Oz-like fantasias with the author’s love of mathematics, science, puns and architecture, creating modernist works that captured the imaginations of children and adults.
The Phantom Tollbooth tells the story of bored young Milo (played in the 1970 film by Butch Patrick) who is unexpectedly gifted with a mysterious tollbooth. Driving his toy car through the booth, he arrives in the chaotic Kingdom of Wisdom, where he attempts to assist the exiled princes Rhyme and Reason regain power. Among his adventures: Jumping to Conclusions, an island in the Kingdom of Wisdom.
The Phantom Tollbooth has sold nearly 4 million copies since its 1961 release.
The Dot and the Line would showcase the author’s sly melding of his brainy obsessions and his knack for emotional storytelling, all wrapped in painterly abstract trappings. Subtitled A Romance in Lower Mathematics, the book chronicled the star-crossed romance between a red dot and a blue line. In its attempt to impress the dot and win its affection, the line teaches itself to form triangles and hexagons and shapes so increasingly complex “that he had to letter his sides and angles to keep his place.” (The line’s romantic rival, a bad-boy squiggle, meanwhile descends into messy scribbles).
The dot and the line fell in love and lived “if not happily ever after, at least reasonably so.” The tale ends with the moral “To the vector belong the spoils.” Narrated by actor Robert Morley, the film based on the book won the 1965 Academy Award for Animated Short Film and became a staple in classrooms.
Other Juster works include the 2005 book The Hello, Goodbye Window, illustrated by Chris Raschka, which was awarded a Caldecott Medal. The sequel, Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, was published in 2008.
Juster, a Brooklyn native who also worked as an architect before retiring, lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, and is survived by a daughter and a granddaughter. His wife Jeanne died in 2018.
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