Everything reminds me of Phantom Tollbooth

This is the most beautiful piece of art I’ve seen in a long time: Tyree Callahan’s chromatic typewriter. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a video, so I can’t see how it works. The sense I get is that it didn’t type the watercolor in the picture. But even so, the whole thing reminds me of Chroma conducting the sunset in The Phantom Tollbooth.

Which in turn reminds me that I never posted this fantastic 50th anniversary interview with Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer in School Library Journal last October.  They were roommates my age when they wrote and illustrated the thing (which turned out to be one of my favorite things of all time) as a way to distract Norton from the book he was supposed to be writing, and are still friends 50 years later. The interview is delightfully crotchety about the publishing industry and book critics:

Feiffer: Even the good reviews, many of them, indicated that, well, this was a book for gifted children, for very bright children… [B]ut in many cases, the most important responses I got were from kids who had some learning disability they had to get past, and they did perfectly well with the story.  So that whole idea that this was a book only for gifted kids was insane.

Juster: …. And to top it all off, of course, this was 1961; critics said that fantasy was bad for children because it disoriented them…. You had to be very careful about what you put in a children’s book, [because they believed] no child should ever run into anything that he didn’t already know about in a book.

And later:

Feiffer: There was another element in all of this back then, and even more so now. That is, most of what people know is based on their own tight little world, and what they think is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable. And then a book breaks through, as it did with Maurice [Sendak’s] Where the Wild Things Are or with Norton and The Phantom Tollbooth, and rather than learn from that, they think these books are just exceptions. If anything, it reinforces their prejudices.

But one of the wonderful things about children’s books is that a kid can read something and find in the book a friendship, an ally, something he doesn’t have at home…. And then he can look back on this book and others, as one of the big changing moments in his life. If you turned all editorial judgment over to the people in charge, those moments would never ever happen.

The whole thing is very much worth reading.

(I should also mention that Post-a-Day technically ended on Monday. I missed 11 out of  35 days. Oops. Still, it got me out of my posting stagnation, so I’ll call it a win.)

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2 Responses to Everything reminds me of Phantom Tollbooth

  1. CLM says:

    I am also a big fan of The Phantom Tollbooth, and in fact am hoping that is the book I will be giving out on World Book Day!

  2. Mike C. says:

    I love that they were roommates, in the same way I love that Fry and Laurie were school friends. One of the books I’ve really liked the past few years was a Jules Feiffer creation called “A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears.” It was hilarious. Thanks for finding the interview!

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