The Dot & the Line

by Norton Juster

Cover image

Publisher: SeaStar
Copyright: 1963
Printing: 2001
ISBN: 1-58717-066-3
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 66

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Norton Juster is the author of perhaps my favorite children's book of all time, The Phantom Tollbooth. When I learned from a Powell's interview that he'd written another children's book, I quickly and eagerly ordered it. Then, like far too many worthy books, it sat in my to-read pile for several years until I happened to remember it while a friend and I were talking about children's books. Then we both read it within a half-hour.

The Dot & the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics is, unlike The Phantom Tollbooth, a picture book rather than an illustrated children's novel. It's suitable for an even younger audience (although some of the jokes are subtle) and is full of delightful visual puns constructed by Juster himself. The story follows a line, a real straight arrow, who is hopelessly in love with a well-rounded dot. The dot, however, is captivated by a wild and unkempt squiggle and won't give the line the time of day. The line, after briefly trying to build his self-esteem, sets out to better himself and win back the dot in a rather silly romantic quest culminating in a truly horrible pun.

This is a picture book, so there isn't the level of substance you would get from a novel, even a children's novel. It is still, however, filled with Juster's quirky sense of humor and wordplay, play that incorporates the visuals very nicely. Juster makes effective use of stock art and very simple geometric shapes, managing not just humor but several impressive pages that draw power from the contrast with earlier, simpler geometry. I also quite appreciated that Juster didn't stop with the interior contents; the entire book is touched with his humor, including the back cover ("for readers of all ages — from Dark to Middle!") and the author blurb ("the author lives with his wife in western Massachusetts, where he conducts a support group for negative numbers").

The target age for this book is a bit tricky, since one has to be old enough to understand simple relationship angst but not too old for picture books. I do highly recommend it for anyone in that age range, though, and also for a kid who liked The Phantom Tollbooth and wants more. It's a bit more questionable whether an adult would want to pay $8 for a one-shot amusement that you'll finish in fifteen minutes, but I do recommend checking family and friends for a child of the right age to receive this book as a gift (and then you can read it yourself before you give it away).

And yes, this is the book that was turned into an Oscar-winning animated short by Chuck Jones. I think some of the transitions and the pacing, not to mention a few of the jokes, work better in book form, though.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-12-04

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21