Monday, October 31, 2011

The Phantom Tollbooth Turns 50

The Phantom Tollbooth is a book that helped shaped my childhood. I read it around the age of 10 and promptly announced it the BEST BOOK EVER.. (although it was quickly usurped by LotR but that is an entirely different story). Over the years I have spoken about this book to many, encouraged others to read it and given it to just about every 10 year old child I have come in contact with. My own kids all read it between the ages of 8 and 10, depending. Only Blond Girl fell in love with it the way I did but oh the fall was glorious.

 Because I loved the book so much when I found this article and just wanted to share...

The Phantom Tollbooth turns 50 this year, and we've joined Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer, Milo and Tock, and a host of authors, critics, teachers and kids, to celebrate the classic 1961 children's book, by making the definitive documentary film about this beloved work of the American imagination.

We follow Norton and Jules as they return to the house in Brooklyn Heights where Norton began writing a little story "to get his mind off of what he had to do." Working as an architect, Norton was awarded a grant for a book on Urban Perception, which he promptly didn't write. Instead, he created Milo. When he showed his notes to his neighbor, a young political cartoonist bent on overthrowing the government, Jules began sketching – and The Phantom Tollbooth was born. 
Through the lens of Milo and his adventures, we get to know Norton Juster – an incorrigible punster with a "delight in glorious lunatic linguistic acrobatics" (Maurice Sendak, in his appreciation to the 35th Anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth). Bored as a kid, wondering why he had to learn so many useless facts, Norton is Milo, we learn. And we get taken into Norton’s personal Phantom Tollbooth: where his imagination gets him in trouble for demoralizing the Navy battalion with his drawings of elves; where his friendship with Jane Jacobs and her critique of American cities shows up in Digitopolis and Dictionopolis; where “beyond expectations” takes on a personal meaning for Norton’s daughter and granddaughter as they confront their learning disabilities. 
And there’s Jules Feiffer: “that rare artist who can draw an idea," as Maurice Sendak writes in his appreciation. Or as Jules puts it “this was the first children’s book I’d ever done and I thought it was going to be the last. This was the Cold War Fifties, I was interested in overthrowing the government". We’ll look at Jules’ emergence as a voice of his generation through his comic strip at The Village Voice. How much of that era – the politics, the ideas, New York in 1961 – worked its way into his Phantom Tollbooth illustrations? Jules may argue that he illustrated the book more as a favor to a friend – but we just might find his wit, his deft criticism, his radical politics, embedded in those iconic sketches. 
And then there’s the cast of authors, historians, teachers, fans, kids, and many more who all have their favorite parts: The Whether Man – “for after all it’s much more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be;" The Island of Conclusions - which you can only get to by jumping; The Terrible Trivium "demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs;" and faithful Tock who just can’t stand to waste time, but does love a nice ride in an automobile.
Join us on "The Road to Dictionopolis: The Phantom Tollbooth Turns 50." Our documentary is a key part of the celebrations, and will, we hope, help bring a fourth generation of readers to Norton and Jules' masterpiece.
We've been filming since January 2011 and expect to have the film ready for release in 2012. 

I hope you can find the time to read and enjoy this book. It doesn't matter when it was written, it feels like it happened yesterday. I think all of us have a bit of Milo in us. Let's just hope we learn our lessons as well as he did

* this article was found at The Phantom Tollbooth

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