The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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Goodreads Blurb

Hailed as “a classic. . . . humorous, full of warmth and real invention” (The New Yorker), this beloved story -first published more than fifty years ago- introduces readers to Milo and his adventures in the Lands Beyond.

For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams. . . .

 

Review

I picked this up as a summer read because I’ve seen so many book reviews talk about how it is one of their favorite children’s book from their childhood. I had never heard of it until recently. Coincidentally, my mom and some of her friends created a book club for their kids this summer and this is the first book they are reading and discussing so I decided this was the perfect time for me to start it as well.

It’s a very quick read. There are tons of illustrations which really help you visualize the world in which it is set. It reminded me of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s very out there and silly. I gave it 4/5 stars. I may have enjoyed the book more if I was reading it as a child.

I think the book teaches some great lessons to kids. You first meet the main character, a boy named Milo, he is a grumpy, ungrateful boy who complains. But once he goes through The Phantom Tollbooth, he meets different eccentric characters like Tock the dog who is part clock, and takes time very seriously and the Humbug who is a more obnoxious character who is a bug and leads them on their journey. Equipped with a tiny car and two unlikely allies, the gang must travel through Dictionopolis and Digitopolis in order to coerce two rival brother-kings to agree to bring back Princesses Rhyme and Reason the Kingdom of Wisdom to help straighten out the Kingdom.

The kings are ridiculous and make up silly rules based on words and numbers and how to speak and such. Both kingdoms are very nonsensical and Milo shows them why their world cannot function this way. Along this journey, Milo is learning the lesson mindfulness and of stopping to think. Back in his reality he had decided that he was tired of thinking and problem solving. It was just too much work! School was a bore! But here he gets see what the world would be like if everyone thought that way and he gets to be the stand in rhyme and reason until he saves the Princesses and returns them.

Once he returns them to the Kingdom of Wisdom, Milo must say good-bye to his new friends, but returns with a newfound appreciation for what he has and for the use of common sense instead of being lazy.

And not to sound like an old, cynical teacher, but I think this is a great book for 5th/6th graders to read these days with technology being so prevalent in everyday life now. I have two younger brothers in elementary school and I see how their life is driven by technology now. In some ways this is great and prepares them for the future, in other ways it’s gotten in the way of them learning proper social skills and often makes them dependent on their devices for everything. As a 7th grade Reading teacher, I have students coming into my classroom every year who still do not know how to use a Dictionary. They have no idea how it works, what alphabetize means, the difference between a Dictionary and a Thesaurus, etc.

And a big reason for this is that they can just look up everything they don’t know on the internet. They don’t have to have the skill of alphabetizing because they don’t need to know it in order to look up definitions on Dictionary.com. Which becomes a big problem when testing comes up and they still don’t fully understand how to utilize a Dictionary. It’s scary. I think this novel can help teach a lesson to these technological kids on why it’s still important to value knowledge and know how to problem solve in the real world.

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