Today was our son Zephyr’s 20th birthday, and it was the first of his birthdays that we’ve been unable to observe with him. But we spent the day in a place that we always enjoyed taking him when he was a kid: Washington, DC. We happened to be around for the 10th annual National Book Festival, held at The National Mall, so we caught a Metro train into town to check it out.
Under a large tent, we stopped to chat with librarians from just about every state in the country. There were even representatives there from Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa. As always, we were asked several times where we’re from or where we live, and people are still quite puzzled when we explain that we live everywhere.
A number of well-known authors were on hand today, including Isabel Allende, Ken Follett, Jonathon Franzen and Scott Turow. But the highlight had to be the joint appearance of Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer, the author and illustrator respectively of the classic fantasy novel The Phantom Tollbooth
(a book that Zephyr loved, as did his mom and dad), published just about half a century ago. Just seeing these two octogenarian icons together was just about worth the trip.
As they stood waiting to be introduced, Feiffer took a felt-tipped pen and, turning to the large sketch pad onstage, casually drew an illustration of the boy Milo and the dog Tock as facilely as if he’d done it a dozen times a day for the past 50 years – and yet it looked as fresh and painstaking as an actual illustration from the book.
The two of them took turns relating how they came to collaborate on the project by chance when they were living together in the same Brooklyn apartment building; of how surprised they were that it turned out to be such a sensation; of what they’ve each been up to in the meantime; and of how they recently tackled another joint project, The Odious Ogre
(Amazon affiliate) As Juster deadpanned, “We’ve made a pact that we’re going to collaborate on a book every 50 years.”
They then fielded a number of questions from the audience, to which they gave some witty and illuminating responses. It’s hard to say which is more inspiring: the book or its creators.