Classic children’s novel ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ is remembered in time

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FEIFFER

Kicking off the 20th anniversary of the CLSC Young Readers program, the young reading aficionados are taking a ride with Milo and a time-ticking pooch named Tock. Joining them in their journey are numerous quirky and curious characters, as they try to restore order by returning the princesses Rhyme and Reason to the Kingdom of Wisdom.

Filled with a sea of synonyms, a plethora of puns and a mountain of metaphors, readers of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth and the novel’s protagonist Milo quickly learn that, while sticks and stones may break one’s bones, an appreciation for knowledge is the only way to get him home.

At 4 p.m. today in the Strohl Art Center, the book’s illustrator, Jules Feiffer, will meet with the Young Readers program to discuss his work. He will speak for 15 minutes in the exhibit of his work, and then the discussion will move to the porch of the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center.

As roommates in Brooklyn, over a half a century ago, Juster wrote and Feiffer drew illustrations for what would become known as The Phantom Tollbooth. Neither man knew of the success they were literally holding in their hands.

“It’s amazing,” Feiffer said, reminising over the now-classic children’s novel.

Marveled by the book’s staying power, Feiffer said the excitement about the book seemed to happen out of nowhere, but has now gone the span of 53 years. It is still being read in classrooms and by children today, including this year’s CLSC Young Readers.

Ironically, after The Phantom Tollbooth was published, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Feiffer said he did not like his work. He was so insecure about his drawings during the process that many original drawings were done on tracing paper. Hardly any are left today.

“I thought the book was terrific but I wasn’t pleased with my own production of it,” he said. “When the buzz started about bringing it out for the 50th edition and I started seeing the artwork I thought, ‘My God, it’s much better than I thought,’ and I began to appreciate my artwork for the first time — a work I knew I always loved.”

Since The Phantom Tollbooth’s publication, Feiffer has continued to illustrate novels as well as write many of his own. A child of the Great Depression and World War II, Feiffer said he was a big fan of the noir and pulp fiction films of the period, which inspired him to write his first noir graphic novel, Kill My Mother, which will be released in August. Also coming in August is Feiffer’s new children’s picture book called Rupert Can Dance, about a cat who, after watching and learning from a girl named Mandy, develops a secret love for dancing.

Feiffer said he wanted readers “to think of the book as an individual that he or she can take out and feel some communion with.”

CLSC Young Readers is a program designed specifically for youth and space is limited. Parents, grandparents and adult guests of youth will be asked to wait outside the venue to allow room for all interested youth to attend and participate.