We are. We’re laughing our way through Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth at my house in preparation of meeting the author a week from Friday at the final event of the On the Same Page campaign, sponsored by Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, the Decatur Book Festival, the DeKalb Rotary and the Decatur Education Foundation.
We’re a little late to the game because my childhood copy of the Tollbooth, which survived two camping trips, a great Dane, and my brothers, is stashed in my parents’ attic. We had to wait for our copy from the library, but it’s been worth the wait. It’s great fun to visit with Milo and Tock again. The things I loved as a child are hilarious to me as an adult and I now have the added bonus of shushing Junior’s giggles as we read. The word play mostly goes over her head but there’s a good solid story under the silliness, plenty of slapstick and Jules Feiffer’s amazing illustrations. Nothing sounds better to me (and is accompanied by Puss-in-Boots eyes) than, “Please, Mama, just one more chapter?” I almost never say no, hoping that I am nurturing a love of reading and not just aiding and abetting in prolonging bedtime.
There is a 50th anniversary edition now out, but what has me twitching with excitement is the Annotated Phantom Tollbooth. Leonard Marcus based his comments on interviews with Juster and careful perusal of early drafts. He takes the story to a whole new level, giving incredible insight into the process of creating and showing the goofy everyday stuff that happens along the way. If you ever said, “I’m going to write a children’s book, how hard could it be?” you need to read this book. It will give you perspective and (I hope) a great deal of respect for children’s authors.
Leonard Marcus is a rock star in his field and if you are a children’s literature geek like me you must, must, must read not only Dear Genius: the Letters of Ursula Nordstrom but also The Minders of Make-Believe. Genius is not a sit down and read in one setting kind of book, it’s more for dipping into during those random moments when you need something to read but don’t have a lot of time, say, before bedtime. Ms. Nordstrom was a mover and shaker in children’s publishing during the heyday of the four martini business lunch and an inveterate letter writer who, lucky for us, kept copies of every letter she wrote. She had a lot to say about a lot of things, including sniping at Anne Carroll Moore, Queen of Children’s Services for the New York Public Library and praising the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) which provided monies to public libraries for books. Minders of Make-Believe is a solid and entertaining history of children’s publishing in the United States and the scholarship is impeccable. Of course these aren’t the only two books we’ve got by Mr. Marcus, but they are two of my favorites. Look him up and give the others a try as well.
Mr. Marcus will be interviewing Mr. Juster on stage at Agnes Scott on Friday, December 9. If you’ve been lucky enough to get a ticket perhaps I’ll see you there.