I wrote last year (have I really been doing this that long already?) about my premature attempt to read The Phantom Tollbooth with my then-five-year-old, so it’s safe to say that Norton Juster’s classic is one of my own favorites. (It even made the cut on a list of personal picks I had to come up with for a publishing course when I was 21, alongside Homer, Hammett, and Ford Madox Ford. Looking back, I simultaneously smile at pretentious youth and realize that I might still pick the same authors.)
The brand-new Annotated Phantom Tollbooth is aimed directly at parents like me. It’s exactly what it says it is: An extra-wide edition of the book, so designed to leave room for “annotations” in the margins (by historian and critic Leonard S. Marcus) about the ideas and inspirations behind Juster’s characters and situations, as well as illustrator Jules Feiffer’s eternally memorable rendering of them.
Marcus has combed interviews with and notes by both author and illustrator for these nuggets (which include the fact that Feiffer’s illustration of the eccentric Whether Man, one of the first of the many unusual characters Milo meets on his journey, is pretty much a drawing of Juster himself). In an extended introduction, Marcus also relates the story of the book’s origin as an especially close collaboration between two men sharing not merely a project, but a house in Brooklyn Heights. (Since Juster did the cooking for the housemates, Feiffer has joked that had he not agreed to illustrate The Phantom Tollbooth, he would literally not have been able to eat.)
Now, I don’t think this is necessarily the best edition of the classic to use to introduce the book to one’s own kids, full of distractions—and fairly serious-minded distractions at that—as it is. But it’s almost a must-have for any adult (or teen, or maybe even tween) for whom this book holds a special place. And since it seems to have had that effect on many of us, chances aren’t bad that our own kids will, in due time, come to enjoy leafing through the pages of this edition to find out where these two visionaries got their brilliant ideas.
Oh, and a year later, Dash asked to revisit The Phantom Tollbooth—and this time, everything clicked; he was drawn right in. Maybe a parent’s (unpressured) dreams can come true after all, sometimes….
Cover image courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers
From You Know, For Kids