Adult Books Contours of Love Early Readers Genre Lifespan of a Reader Middle Grade Picture Books Reading Themes Young Adult (YA) Literature

The Erudite And Clever Love Story of Mathematical Figures “The Dot And The Line” by Norton Juster – A Romance In Lower Mathematics

Norton Juster's The Dot And The Line

Myra here.

It is not easy to find a picturebook about love that is not facile, cheesy, and customary in its use of hackneyed tropes. This rare find stretches the boundaries of what is expected in picturebooks as it is complex, multi-layered, and so astute and clever in playing around with words (in this case, mathematical concepts) to convey meanings that may be interpreted differently by various people, depending on where they are in their lives.

The Dot And The Line: A Romance In Lower Mathematics

Created by: Norton Juster
Published by: Seastar Books, 2001 (First Published in 1963).
ISBN: 1587170663 (ISBN13: 9781587170669)Book was given to me as a gift. Book photos taken by me.

I know Norton Juster from one of my favourite children’s book of all time, The Phantom Tollbooth (I read both the standard one and the annotated version by Leonard Marcus). Hence, I was not really surprised at how brilliantly this love affair played out in quick-witted narrative that is Juster’s signature.

A straight-if-not-slightly-boring-and-predictable Line has fallen in love with a frivolous-and-just-a-wee-bit superficial Circle, who refuses to give Line her time of the day, as she much prefers the “wild and unkempt squiggle” who lives for the moment.

Between a solid and dependable line who has dignity and who is resolute and claims to know where he is going (see above image) – and a “disreputable” squiggle who “never seemed to have anything on his mind at all” – our airy, coquettish Circle preferred the latter. Clearly, she knows her priorities.

Line’s many friends comforted him and told him that he deserves better, someone who has more depth. Yet, Line couldn’t hear any word they say because for him, Circle is the image of absolute perfection, despite what his friends tell him about all circles looking exactly the same:

Disconsolate, our intrepid-if-not-slightly-boring-hero, the Line, started imagining how he could possibly woo Circle:

… from beng a leader in world affairs (see above) or a potent force in the world of art (see below):

Just when he was on the verge of giving up, he inadvertently found a way to bend, and bend some more, until he evolved into a host of figures.

Excited about all the possibilities this afforded him, he wisely considered that he should make his newfound skill more purposive and goal-directed, so that he could transform into the best version of himself to impress Circle – and that he did, becoming at some turns eloquent, and at others quite profound, and yes, erudite:

Whether or not Circle falls for this, I shall leave for you to discover. While I did not much care for Circle, to be honest, I was hands-down impressed with Line’s commitment, fervent intention, and the fact that he was able to evolve into a more nuanced, textured being – removing all self-imposed ceiling of what it merely means to be a line. And as Norton Juster aptly concluded in his articulated moral to this tale: “To the vector belong the spoils.” 

Find this book, and share it with your quick-witted, smart-talking, mathematically-inclined young reader, and they will never look at picturebook romances in the same manner again, that I guarantee.

#LitWorld2018GB Update: United States of America


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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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