PW: You have been away from children's books for a while, so The Hello, Goodbye Window is cause for excitement. What brings you back?
Norton Juster: As I joke sometimes, I'm an architect in real life, which can be very demanding. I was also teaching [until my retirement] part-time at Hampshire College. Time just runs away with you, and I've never really written on any kind of a high-level production basis.
What's different is that this is the first time I've done a picture book. It was all triggered by my having a granddaughter [now age eight], who is wonderful and bright and sees things as all children do: in a different way.
PW: You call The Hello, Goodbye Window your first picture book. Your 1963 "romance" between a dot and a line is a kind of visual storytelling too, but it's not necessarily a children's book. What do you see as the difference?
NJ:The Dot and the Line was a little story that popped into my head many years ago. I wrote it up in less than a week and thought, how am I going to present this? I haunted obscure places like the library at Yeshiva University in New York that had all these fantastic European mathematical books and figures and diagrams.
When it came out, I thought, this is my own little joke, no one's going to think this is funny. It did very well, but I never thought of it as a picture book. It is a picture book of course but not for children.
PW: In Window, you write in the child's voice. Why did you choose that point of view?
NJ: When I wrote The Phantom Tollbooth, people would say, who did you model it on? And I'd say, just me. I wasn't married, I didn't have kids or anything.
In this one, I thought it was so important to capture the voice of the child, [to convey] memories not of specific events but of the way things felt, the way you perceived them, and the confusions of them all. That was partly from my granddaughter, and partly from memories of myself, how I saw things [in childhood]. In the book, she says, "When I get tired I come in and take my nap and nothing happens until I get up." The world does stop, and I could remember that very well.
[My granddaughter and I] were doing a jigsaw puzzle one day, and she said, "Did your daddy do jigsaw puzzles with you?" And I said yes. And she said, "Did he get older too?" I said yes. And she said, "Did he die?" I said yes. She asked, "Were you sad?" If you read Piaget, you couldn't get a better conversation!
PW: Is there a Hello, Goodbye Window at your house?
NJ: There is. Our granddaughter stays over one night a week. The main life in our house revolves around the kitchen, as in many houses, and we always used to play little games with that window. Almost everything that happens in the book either was suggested or almost literally given through things we did a couple years ago.
PW: How did you develop this idea with your editor, Michael di Capua, at Hyperion?
NJ: When Michael worked for Pantheon many years ago, he was the assistant to Fabio Coen, when I did my book Albeiric the Wise. So I've known him for a long, long time. I have another friend, Jules Feiffer [illustrator of Tollbooth], who has done some books with [him] and he suggested sending it to Michael.
PW: How did you team up with illustrator Chris Raschka?
NJ: One day Michael suggested Chris, and I looked at his work and I loved it. I had my own preconception of what the book would look like, and he went beyond anything I would have imagined. The illustrations have such explosive life, and I love the little girl.
There is another thing; most people don't even notice it. My marriage is an interracial marriage: I'm white, my wife is black. My daughter and my granddaughter have various aspects of this. When I first talked to Michael about the illustrations, I said I'd like them to reflect that, but I didn't want to say anything in the book to drive it home as a message. I just wanted it to be there as a fact of life. I think Chris did that wonderfully too.
PW: Your readers will remember The Phantom Tollbooth's nonstop wordplay and visual humor. The Hello, Goodbye Window has a lower-key playfulness. Why did you diverge from your earlier punning?
NJ:Part of it may be age. I was much younger when I wrote [Phantom]. I grew up in a family where punning and wordplay were constant; as a child you have a feeling you're being oppressed by puns, though after a while you realize they're a lot of fun. But one of the reasons I never did a sequel to The Phantom Tollbooth is I didn't want to get trapped in that whole idea of the explosive nature of words.
PW: Now that you have written a children's picture book and you're enjoying grandparenting, do you expect to create sequels to The Hello, Goodbye Window?
NJ: I have several picture books in the works—it's a format I like—and they all stem from either things that [my granddaughter and I have] done or talked about that have made a connection with me. I have another [book] which is just about done and a couple more which are just in note stages. I'm also working on another chapter book. I have file drawers filled with ideas. In six lifetimes I'm never going to do all of these things.