As one of the most successful children’s books of all time, there can be little doubt that Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth” introduced entire generations of children to a love of reading. Detailing the adventures of a lazy student named Milo through a magical land of mathematics and music, the book became a bestseller upon its publication in 1961.
A Successful Book With Lessons to Teach
Juster’s primary aim with “The Phantom Tollbooth” was to teach children about the value of using their time wisely. Issues surrounding procrastination and time-wasting are addressed throughout the narrative; it is clear that Juster wanted to help children to use their time in life in useful ways. Throughout “The Phantom Tollbooth,” Juster put forth a genuinely comprehensive moral viewpoint that hasn’t been lost on new generations of readers.
That may not be a coincidence: Juster’s childhood in Brooklyn, New York coincided with the Great Depression; as evidenced by the focus on the virtue of resilience in his books, it is likely that this event had a marked effect on Juster’s writing. Neither was a career as a successful author always a foregone conclusion in Juster’s mind: He studied architecture in college and developed this vocation in tandem with his career as a writer for the rest of his life.
A One-Off Writer
As a writer who doubled as an architect, Juster was something of a one-off in the publishing industry. Despite his first book’s massive success with booksellers and the considerable earnings that Juster earned from book sales and a popular animated film adaptation of “The Phantom Tollbooth” spearheaded by Hanna-Barbera Productions, in fact, the author retained his job as an architect for decades.
As an architect, Juster taught for many years at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. He continued publishing children’s books throughout his life. Among devotees of his work, Juster was known as an incredibly personable author who often responded personally to fan letters.
An Inauspicious Beginning
By his own account, Juster first tried his hand as a children’s author while serving in the Navy; according to the author, he was once taken to task by his commanding officer for spending his time writing out a story instead of focusing on his military work.
His legacy as a children’s writer will certainly endure for years to come. Popular authors such as Neil Gaiman currently cite Juster as a major influence, and a recent documentary traced the history of “The Phantom Tollbooth” and its effect on readers of all ages.