"All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words." - Amy Lowell, 'Sword Blades and Poppy Seed'

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Children's/YA: The Phantom Tollbooth

Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth. New York: Bullseye Books, 1989. 256 pages.

"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!" (description from book cover)

Overall Rating: ***** (out of five)

  • Story. The idea of a mysterious package showing up in a boy's room to try and drag him into an appreciation for life is just fun.  I can think of times when life has gotten into a rut of repetition that a surprise trip to a magic land would have been in order.
  • Wordplay.  In terms of clever character names and witty references, Norton Juster is Jasper Fforde for kids (without all the literary allusions). With characters like Short Shrift, Faintly Macabre, and Kakofonous A. Dischord.
  • Heavyhandedness.  The allegorical nature of the story can some times lead to a lack of subtlety in the message of the story. After all, Milo is on a hunt for Rhyme and Reason.  I think it comes off as clever, but it might annoy some people.
I'll be honest, this book is one of my favorites.  My mother and I listened to a book on tape of it, but the recording was only part of the book, and it encouraged us to finish reading it for ourselves.  After being really annoyed,  I was glad to receive a copy of the book from Santa in my stocking.  As I grew up, I got more of the jokes and appreciated it even more.  Children and young adults enjoy doing things that they like over and over again, like kids listening to their favorite CD all the time.  If kids are going to re-read books as they get older, not only should the book be interesting enough to bear re-reading, but it should be complex enough for the kid to get something new out of it each time, and this book does that.

Everything aside, the book is just a lot of fun. Whether Milo is stuck in the Doldrums with the Lethargarians, or he is jumping to the island of Conclusions or he's using unsaid words to destroy a fortress of silence, the book is a joy to read. The book encourages children to break out of complacency and try new things, expanding their horizons.  It also encourages them to enjoy the moment and use their imaginations. Carpe Diem for kids.  Milo discovers the thrill of learning, which is something that it is always important for children to realize.  Also, that they should never let themselves loose their joy in life, which is what makes the book such a pleasure.

1 comment:

  1. This book is also one of my favorites. You broke down the strengths and weaknesses very well. I also thought what you said about being able to read a book over and over again but still getting something else out of is a very good point.
    One that I read over and over again as a child was Kipling's Riki Tiki Tavi.