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By Maureen Lee Lenker
March 09, 2021 at 04:09 PM EST
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Norton Juster, author of beloved 1961 children's book The Phantom Tollbooth, has died. He was 91.

Juster's daughter confirmed that her father died on March 8 in a statement, noting that the cause was complications from a recent stroke.

Norton Juster
Norton Juster
| Credit: Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Phantom Tollbooth, which has gone on to become a children's classic, tells the story of Milo, a bored 10-year-old. When a mysterious tollbooth suddenly appears in his room, he drives a toy car through it, embarking on an adventure in a mysterious imaginary land bursting with wordplay and a whimsical stoking of Milo's curiosity. Renowned illustrator and cartoonist Jules Feiffer illustrated the novel.

"Norton had a twinkle in his eye from the moment we met," Feiffer said in a statement. "He was one of the quickest, smartest, most immediately engaging people I've ever known. His singular quality was being mischievous. He saw humor as turning everything on its head. It's incredible the effect he had on millions of readers who turned The Phantom Tollbooth into something of a cult or a religion. There aren't many people who you can look back and say they made a recognizable and real contribution to our culture. Norton was certainly one of them."

Another one of Juster's books, The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, was adapted into a 1965 Oscar-winning animated short by renowned animator Chuck Jones. It was adapted again in 2017 into a musical piece and performed at Carnegie Hall with John Lithgow as a narrator.

Norton Juster was born June 2, 1929 in New York City. He studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and that would be his primary career throughout his life. He often referred to himself as an "accidental writer."

Juster first began to write children's books while an enlisted officer in the Civil Engineer Corps of the United States Navy during the 1950s. But The Phantom Tollbooth marked his first published work.

Tock, Phantom Tollbooth
'The Phantom Tollbooth' by Norton Juster

The book became a cult classic, often held up alongside Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for its vivid imagination and sense of whimsy. It has sold almost four million copies since its initial publication, and an animated film version of it was produced in 1970. A musical adaptation, which Juster collaborated on with Sheldon Harnick and Arnold Black, premiered at the Kennedy Center in 2007 and has gone on to be performed around the country.

Architecture predominated his life, despite his love of writing. He was a professor of architecture and environmental design at Hampshire College from 1970 to 1992. He also co-founded a small architectural firm in Massachusetts in 1970, where he worked until 1996.

He served as a professor of architecture and environmental design at Hampshire College from its first trimester in 1970 until his retirement in 1992.

After his retirement from architecture, he continued to write. His 2005 book The Hello, Goodbye Window won the Caldecott Medal for Chris Raschka's illustrations. He penned a sequel, Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, in 2008. Both of these books were inspired by Juster's granddaughter.

Other books include Otter Nonsense, As: A Surfeit of Similes, and his final work, 2011's Neville.

He is survived by his daughter, Emily, and granddaughter, Tori.

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