Juster, Norton 1929–
Juster, Norton 1929–
PERSONAL: Born June 2, 1929, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Samuel H. (an architect) and Minnie (Silberman) Juster; married Jeanne Ray (a graphic designer), August 15, 1964; children: Emily. Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.Arch. (Bachelor of Architecture), 1952; University of Liverpool, 1953. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, bicycling, reading, making pickles and preserves, being a grandfather.
ADDRESSES: Home—259 Lincoln Ave., Amherst, MA 01002-2010. Agent—c/o Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman, 1501 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.
CAREER: Writer, teacher, architect. Juster & Gugliotta, New York, NY, architect, 1960–68; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, professor of environmental design, 1960–70; Juster Pope Frazier (an architectural firm), Shelburne Falls, MA, founder and architect, 1969–99; Hampshire College, Amherst, MA, professor, 1970–92, professor emeritus of design, 1992–. Military service: U.S. Naval Reserve, Civil Engineer Corps, active duty, 1954–57.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright fellowship, 1952–53; Ford Foundation grant, 1960–61; National Academy of Arts and Sciences award for outstanding achievement, 1968–69; Guggenheim fellowship, 1970–71; George G. Stone Center for Children's Books Seventh Recognition of Merit, 1971; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book, 2005, for The Hello, Goodbye Window.
The Phantom Tollbooth, illustrated by Jules Feiffer, Random House (New York, NY), 1961.
The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, Random House (New York, NY), 1963.
Alberic the Wise and Other Journeys, illustrated by Domenico Gnoli, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1965, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Picture Book Studios (Saxonville, MA), 1992.
Otter Nonsense, illustrated by Eric Carle, Philomel (New York, NY), 1982, illustrated by Michael Witte, Morrow (New York, NY), 1994.
As: A Surfeit of Similes, illustrated by David Small, Morrow (New York, NY), 1989.
As Silly as Knees, as Busy as Bees: An Astounding Assortment of Similes, Beech Tree (New York, NY), 1998.
The Hello, Goodbye Window, illustrated by Chris Raschka, Michael di Capua Books/Hyperion (New York, NY), 2005.
Stark Naked: A Paranomastic Odyssey, illustrated by Arnold Roth, Random House (New York, NY), 1969.
(Editor) So Sweet to Labor: Rural Women in America, 1865–1895, Viking (New York, NY), 1979, published as A Woman's Place: Yesterday's Rural Women in America, Fulcrum Publishing (Golden, CO), 1996.
Author of libretto, with Sheldon Harnick, for an opera version of The Phantom Tollbooth, 1995.
ADAPTATIONS: The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics was produced as an animated short film by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1965; The Phantom Tollbooth was produced as an animated full-length feature film by MGM in 1970.
SIDELIGHTS: Norton Juster, an architect and professor of design, is best known to children and adults alike as the author of The Phantom Tollbooth, a work which New York Times Book Review critic Diane Manuel recalled "turned children's librarians on their ears" when it was published in 1961. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, The Phantom Tollbooth remained a modern classic of children's literature.
In The Phantom Tollbooth, the main character, Milo, experiences an awakening of his indifferent and lazy mind. He is bored by just about everything—his toys, his house, and especially his schoolwork. After class one day, Milo finds a large package waiting for him. It is labeled "One Genuine Turnpike Tollbooth," for use by "Those Who Have Never Traveled in Lands Beyond." Intrigued, he sets up the tollbooth and, driving his small electric car, passes through. In an instant, Milo is transported to an unfamiliar road in the Kingdom of Wisdom.
The kingdom, discovers Milo, is made up of Dictionopolis, the land of words, and Digitopolis, the land of numbers. These lands are ruled by feuding brothers named King Azaz the Unabridged and the Mathemagician. The pair argue constantly over which are better: words or numbers. Peace in the Kingdom of Wisdom has been maintained by the kings' adopted sisters, Rhyme and Reason. However, the sisters have recently been exiled from the kingdoms and are being held captive in the Mountains of Ignorance. Milo is persuaded by the only slightly malevolent witch Faintly Macabre to bring Rhyme and Reason back to the kingdom.
The creatures and colleagues Milo encounters in the Kingdom of Wisdom humorously demonstrate the many quirks of the English language: there are his traveling companions, the giant, insectile Humbug, and the watchdog Tock (whose body is a large alarm clock); there are the noisy Dischord and Dynne, and the insidious Terrible Trivium; as well as the Gross Exaggeration, the Threadbare Excuse, and the Over-bearing Know-It-All. The travelers dine on "ragamuffins" and "rigamarolls" in Dictionopolis, while in Digitopolis they nibble on plus signs to fill up and minus signs to become hungry again. Atlantic Monthly's Charlotte Jackson noted that The Phantom Tollbooth, "besides being very amusing, has a quality that will quicken young minds and encourage readers to pursue pleasures that do not depend on artificial stimulation." With its wordplay and fantastic characters, Juster's book has often been compared to another classic, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. But Emily Maxwell stressed in her New Yorker review that The Phantom Tollbooth "remains triumphantly itself, lucid, humorous, full of warmth and real invention." Maxwell described her initial reading of The Phantom Tollbooth as "my first experience of opening a book with no special anticipation and gradually becoming aware that I am holding in my hands a newborn classic."
Because it is a modern morality play in the vein of the "Everyman" dramas, many critics have argued that The Phantom Tollbooth is too sophisticated for young readers. "The ironies, the subtle play on words will be completely lost on all but the most precocious children," commented Miriam Mathes in the Library Journal, while a critic for the Saturday Review stated: "I'm inclined to think it is largely an adult book [for it] goes above the head of its intended audience." New York Times Book Review critic Ann McGovern, however, believed in the universal appeal of The Phantom Tollbooth: "To those who might wonder whether children will grasp Mr. Juster's subtleties, I can only quote one well-read eleven-year-old who reported it 'the cleverest book I've ever read.' Youngsters who drive through the tollbooth with Milo will probably, in the midst of their laughter, digest some important truth of life."
Juster has delivered over the years several more allegorical children's tales, including The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics and Alberic the Wise and Other Journeys. As: A Surfeit of Similes is probably closest to The Phantom Tollbooth in style. In this book, two gentlemen travel the world by any means available in order to collect similes; some (like "slow as ketchup" and "hot as a griddle") are relatively mundane, while others ("clever as paint," "tight as a suture," and "reassuring as a dentist's smile") are refreshingly original. Though she described its premise as "slim as an isthmus," Manuel called Juster's As "the kind of book that could help to sell youngsters on the devilish delights of well-turned phrases."
Alberic the Wise and Other Journeys, originally published in 1965, is a "fable on the nature of wisdom and success," stated a reviewer in Horn Book Magazine. Alberic is a stolid country lad with no particular talents, but he yearns to have wisdom. A story of the world beyond his rural home prompts him to set out on a journey of his own. He serves as apprentice to numerous tradesmen but excels at none of the skilled trades he tries. Still, years later, his riveting stories of his own search for knowledge and wisdom earn him a most-desired name: Alberic the Wise. Wisdom, he learns, often comes simply from seeking it. A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that the "author's compelling prose, elevated without being lofty, will draw in advanced readers."
Prior to 1980, Juster and his family lived on a rural farm. While working to restore and run their property, Juster was taken aback by the amount of sheer labor involved in maintaining a farm. He became curious as to how early American farmers—and, in particular, farm women—managed the burdens of farm work. His research into the subject yielded 1979's So Sweet to Labor: Rural Women in America, 1865–1895, a collection of essays, letters, and poetry written by, to, and about farm women. This collection "evokes the concrete struggles, deeply held cultural values and the blind spots of nineteenth-century rural women," commented Milton Cantor in the Nation. Juster's documents "tell us something about the fragility and chanciness of life in rural America and about the part played by those whom history has swept into the darkened corners of our national past." Though Sharon Congdon of the Washington Post Book World pointed out that So Sweet to Labor "is plagued with problems," such as poor editing and a too-heavy reliance upon the late 1800s periodical The Household as a source, she asserted that Juster's "message is sound." Cantor concluded: "Juster's collection is a realistic and balanced sampling, and enlarges our understanding of the still mostly uncharted history of farm women." So Sweet to Labor was re-released as A Woman's Place: Yesterday's Rural Women in America in 1996.
The Hello, Goodbye Window is a "paean to loving grandparents" and their special relationship with their grandchildren, wrote reviewer Martha V. Parravano in Horn Book Magazine. When the young female narrator and her parents arrive to drop her off for an overnight visit, Nanna and Poppy are watching eagerly for them out the large kitchen window—the Hello, Goodbye Window of the title. While there, she counts stars with her grandmother, listens to her grandfather give an impromptu harmonica performance, looks for raisins hidden in her cereal, naps contentedly, and considers the peril of the tiger (actually, a striped cat) in the garden, all under the watchful eye of her doting and loving grandparents. When her parents return to pick her up, she sees them coming through the Hello, Goodbye Window, and realizes that it is possible to be happy (over reuniting with her parents) and sad (over leaving her grandparents' house) at the same time.
In a 2005 interview with Nathalie Op De Beeck in Publishers Weekly, Juster admitted that there was a real-life Hello, Goodbye Window in his house. "Our granddaughter stays over one night a week," Juster commented. "The main life in our house revolves around the kitchen, as in many houses, and we always used to play little games with that window. Almost everything that happens in the book either was suggested or almost literally given through things we did a couple years ago." Another notable element of the book is that the parents are an interracial couple, like Juster, who is white, and his wife, Jeanne, who is black. Juster noted in the Publishers Weekly interview that he wanted the book's illustrations "to reflect that, but I didn't want to say anything in the book to drive it home as a message. I just wanted it to be there as a fact of life. I think [illustrator' Chris [Raschka] did that wonderfully too." Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper commented that the book "speaks to the real lives of children and their experiences." A Publishers Weekly critic observed that Juster creates "a gently humorous account of a family's conversations and games, all centered on the special window." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that the story's "present-tense narration is just right," while School Library Journal reviewer Angela J. Reynolds observed that the "text is both simple and sophisticated, conjuring a perfectly child-centered world."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, St. James Press, 1996.
Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press, 1989.
Twentieth-Century Young-Adult Writers, St. James Press, 1994.
Atlantic Monthly, December, 1961, Charlotte Jackson, review of The Phantom Tollbooth, p. 120.
Book, July-August, 2003, Adam Langer, "Where Are They Now?," profile of Norton Juster, p. 34.
Booklist, March 15, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of The Hello, Goodbye Window, p. 1286.
Building Design, June 7, 2002, Alan Powers, "Milo the Mindbender," review of The Phantom Tollbooth, p. 15.
Horn Book Magazine, March-April, 1993, review of Alberic the Wise and Other Journeys, p. 231; July-August, 2005, Martha V. Parravano, review of The Hello, Goodbye Window, p. 451.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2005, review of The Hello, Goodbye Window, p. 289.
Library Journal, January 15, 1962, Miriam Mathes, review of The Phantom Tollbooth, p. 332.
Nation, September 8, 1979, Milton Cantor, review of So Sweet to Labor: Rural Women in America, 1865–1895, p. 187.
New Yorker, November 18, 1961, Emily Maxwell, review of The Phantom Tollbooth, pp. 222-224.
New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1961, Diane Manuel, review of The Phantom Tollbooth, p. 35; November 14, 1982, Karla Kuskin, review of Otter Nonsense, p. 43; October 22, 1989, Diane Manuel, review of As: A Surfeit of Similes, p. 35.
Publishers Weekly, November 30, 1992, review of Alberic the Wise and Other Journeys, p. 55; January 8, 2001, "Great Comebacks," review of The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, p. 69; February 21, 2005, review of The Hello, Goodbye Window, p. 173; February 21, 2005, Nathalia Op De Beeck, "On Comings and Goings," interview with Norton Juster, p. 174.
Saturday Review, January 20, 1962, review of The Phantom Tollbooth, p. 27.
School Library Journal, April, 1989, Michael Cart, review of As, p. 112; March, 2005, Angela J. Reynolds, review of The Hello, Goodbye Window, p. 174.
Washington Post Book World, February 3, 1980, Sharon Congdon, review of So Sweet to Labor, p. 10.
Absolute Write Web site, http://www.absolutewrite.com/ (October 5, 2005), RoseEtta Stone, "Interview with Norton Juster."
Powells Books Web site, http://www.powells.com/ (October 5, 2005), Dave Weich, "Norton Juster, Beyond Expectations," interview with Norton Juster.
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (March 12, 2001), Laura Miller, "The Road to Dictionopolis," interview with Norton Juster.
Underdown.org, http://www.underdown.org/ (October 5, 2005), RoseEtta Stone, "An Interview with Norton Juster, Author of The Phantom Tollbooth."