The Phantom Tollbooth’s Classic Cover Morphs

Norton Juster’s 1961 fantasy The Phantom Tollbooth is that rare classic in which the text and original illustrations are inseparable, rather like Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland.  Mention Alice and some illustration of her drawn by  John Tenniel probably pops into the mind.  Is Milo ever anyone but the skinny boy in a black sweater Jules Feiffer drew?   And there’s only one cover design for the book.  This one.

But when a work becomes so famous that translations in other languages are called for, covers and dust jackets have a way of changing publisher to publisher, country to country..

Here’s the front board of the Korean-language version.  The right illustration is on the turquoise background, but the shade of turquoise is not quite the same as in the original.  Look carefully and you can see that the figures of Milo and Tock are shiny.  They were printed on a material other than paper and applied to the dust jacket.  American books almost never have a colored band that wraps around the boards, but it’s common in the packaging of Japanese books–and I assume elsewhere in Asia.  And the raised white characters below the banner with the English title are interesting typographically whether they are legible or not.

The selection of typefaces are the most noticeable change in the design for the Lithuanian-language.  The slate blue background is handsome, but perhaps a little dark, compared to the turquoise original.  The color did not photograph true, so you’ll have to take my word that it’s quite dark..The cover artist for the Romanian-language edition substituted another illustration for the original one of Milo and Toc and colorized it. Some of the figures  were also printed on the same shiny material and laminated to the cover just as in the Korean translation.  Should Milo’s car be orange?  Why does he have blue hair?  By the way, the sea in the middle distance is actually turquoise and the sky slate blue.

Now for the covers that are completely different from Feiffer’s.  All the familiar characters are there, but without making any reference to the original illustrator.  The  Hebrew and German covers are in a surrealistic style, which underscores the possibility that the journey was all in Milo’s mind.  The German translation has no text illustrations except for road signs, a concept that works very well.

The brightly colored cartoony covers for the Japanese- and Serbo-Croatian-language editions impose themselves on Juster’s world, rather than bringing out different dimensions of it.   It’s unclear why Tock was given the teeth of a human being instead of a dog, unless the change was to make him look more friendly.

The French Livre de Poche paperback is unique in placing Tock and the Humbug center stage, with Milo and his car floating in the background along with the author’s name in an extremely small sans serif type.  The French translation is, incidently, completely unillustrated except for Juster’s map. Last but not least is the Polish translation with a cover design by Grzegorz Kierzkowski.  The title set in a wild mixture of different typefaces hints that what is to come may violate rhyme and reason!   Kierzkowski deserves credit for having the confidence to reimagine Juster’s story without reference to Feiffer.  

Norton Juster himself presented to Cotsen this delightful tasting menu of modern cover design on the translations of his celebrated fantasy.  Thanks, Norton, for this very welcome and unexpected addition to the collection!  You can hear Cotsen’s Outreach Coordinator Dana Sheridan’s interview with Norton on the Bibliofiles.


Big Bold Bindings on 19th-Century Picture Books

Over the last few months, I’ve been selecting the illustrations for the forthcoming third volume of the Cotsen catalogue, which will describe over 5,000 children’s books published between 1800 and 1899.  It’s been enormous fun to get acquainted with the hidden jewels of nineteenth-century graphic design.  I’ve been especially delighted by example after example of  books bound in boards covered with paper color-printed with magnificent illustrations.

In the following three front covers the artists have transformed the front boards into posters.  I also like them as different representations of  children learning to see.

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Wilhelm von Breitschwert’s  cover design for Pracht-ABC: das schonste Bilderbuch, (ca. 1868) puts a new spin on an old theme in educational illustrations: teaching children with paintings or wall charts.  The gigantic picture book is a free-standing gallery whose pages can be explored by any number of children.  Dominating the composition is the mother holding a baby on her shoulder to whom she points out (and presumably explains) different images.   Another of her toddlers tugs at her skirt, anxious for his turn to begin.

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The interplay between the animals and the humans in Alexander Pock’s cover is deliciously complicated.   The family is standing with their backs to the viewer as they watch a program of short subjects posted to the right.   A natty fox is pointing to one currently on display–a fox chasing a boy caught out in a lie–but it’s unclear if it’s a magic lantern show, a moving panorama or a film.  The chimpanzee in the hat tries to catch the eye of the boy next to him, hoping for a hand-out.  The bear and eagle in the niches above the standing figures look over their heads, but the viewer has no idea what they are see in the distance to the right.

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The children’s heads are literally bursting through a map of the 1889 Paris Exposition universelle, which they will “tour” via the picture book.  The Tour Eiffel (unfinished at the event’s opening) marked the entrance to the spectacle and is likewise the gateway into this illustrated account of the shows that were on display inside.  Of course in the plates, the brother and sister are accompanied by their chic maman, but the cover holds out the liberating prospect of wandering around on their own.

There are plenty more where these bindings came from–and some of the best of the best will be illustrated in the Cotsen catalogue when it comes out at the end of this year.