Norton Juster, an architect and children’s book author best known for writing The Phantom Tollbooth, has died at age 91 at his home in Northampton, Massachusetts. His daughter Emily Juster said he had been dealing with health complications related to a stroke.
Juster was born in Brooklyn in 1929 to Samuel Juster and Minnie Silberman. Samuel Juster was a Romanian immigrant and became an architect, and Norton’s brother Howard was also an architect. Norton studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and then later city planning at the University of Liverpool. His penchant for children’s stories came out during his time in the Civil Engineer Corps of the United States Navy, which he joined in 1954.
During his ascent to Lieutenant Junior Grade, he started writing and illustrating children’s stories while stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Juster also started an exclusive membership group called the Garibaldi Society that existed solely to reject prospective members. These early days of his interest in children’s literature and meeting Jules Feiffer for the first time is outlined in The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth, which was published in 2011 for the 50 year anniversary of the book.
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In 1958, Juster started working as an architect in New York City and received a grant from the Ford Foundation to write a book about cities for children. This work got boring for him after a little while, and he was stuck in the Doldrums. He then began to write the story of Milo and his unintentional journey into the Lands Beyond. Jules Feiffer provided illustrations, and The Phantom Tollbooth came to readers in 1961. It went on to be adapted into an live action/animated film and a musical.
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