Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Phantom Tollbooth (Book)

Author: Norton Juster. Illustrator: Jules Feiffer. Release date: 1961. Publisher:  Random House. ISBN: 9780394815008.
Plot summary: Milo never finds anything too interesting. Everything seems dull and boring. One day Milo receives a mysterious present: a tollbooth with a map to some very strange places. Milo hops in his toy car and drives through the tollbooth, only to find himself a real road in a different land. What happens next is an adventure that interests someone even as perpetually bored as Milo. After visiting the lands of Dictionopolis, ruled by King Azaz, and Digitopolis, ruled by the Mathemagician, Milo learns that their sisters, Rhyme and Reason, have been banished to the Castle in the Air. It appears that King Azaz, who is obsessed with words, and the Mathemagician, who is equally as obsessed with numbers, disagreed about which was more important. When Rhyme and Reason declared that both are equally useful, they were banished, causing the strange land to fall into disarray. Milo, and Tock, a watchdog with a clock in his stomach who befriends Milo, decide to rescue Rhyme and Reason. The journey will not be easy, however, and Milo and Tock must face countless monsters and some very strange creatures. Will they be able to rescue Rhyme and Reason and restore order to the land?
Review:  This quirky but fun book from the 1960s is a cerebral read that tweens who like to think are certain to enjoy. Many readers will be able to identify with Milo. He doesn’t find anything interesting and spends most of his day bored, a common feeling for children who aren’t stimulated in school. The adventures he experiences after travelling through the tollbooth are strange, but fun.  Juster’s use of language and writing style are unique and he creates a whole new vocabulary for Milo to learn (Dictionopolis, Digitopolis, Mountains of Ignorance, Chroma the Great, the Terrible Trivium, etc.) Readers will likely find themselves learning new words while reading The Phantom Tollbooth. Even though it was originally published fifty years ago, this title is still an excellent and interesting read for tweens that like to think outside of the box. The 1970 film adaptation is also enjoyable.
Genre: Fantasy
Reading level: Grades 4+
Similar titles:  Alberic the Wise by Norton Juster, The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat by Theoni Pappas.
Personal thoughts:  This is one of my favorite books for tweens and adults as well. It is so fun, clever and unique that it is still beloved fifty years after it was first published. One of my favorite parts of the story is how Juster manages to include educational topics in the plot. I remember learning a lot about different concepts as a tween simply from looking into some of the words mentioned in The Phantom Tollbooth. I would highly recommend this book to tweens who are craving something original.
Themes:  Adventure, fantasy, puns, math, words.
Awards/Reviews: Considered a classic work of children’s literature.
Series Information:  N/A
Character information:
Milo – A tween boy who is bored with life until he receives a mysterious tollbooth that transports him to a strange land and into a strange adventure.
Tock – A watchdog with a clock in his stomach who befriends Milo soon after he passes through the tollbooth.
The Humbug – A beetle like creature who is very pompous and likes attention. He also befriends Milo after he passes through the tollbooth.
King Azaz- The word obsessed ruler of Dictionopolis and brother to the Mathemagician, Rhyme and Reason. He is involved in a long conflict with his brother concerning the importance of words versus numbers.
The Mathemagician – The numbers obsessed ruler of Digitopolis and brother to King Azaz, Rhyme and Reason. He is in a fed with his brother, believing numbers to be more important than words.
Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason – Sisters of King Azaz and the Mathemagician. They were banished to the Castle in the Air after deciding that numbers and words are equally important.
Annotation:  Milo is perpetually and hopelessly bored with his life until a mysterious tollbooth appears in his room. After driving through the tollbooth in his toy car, Milo finds himself on a real road on the way to a strange adventure.

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