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The Phantom Tollbooth Hardcover – August 12, 1961

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Editorial Reviews Review

"It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time," Milo laments. "[T]here's nothing for me to do, nowhere I'd care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing." This bored, bored young protagonist who can't see the point to anything is knocked out of his glum humdrum by the sudden and curious appearance of a tollbooth in his bedroom. Since Milo has absolutely nothing better to do, he dusts off his toy car, pays the toll, and drives through. What ensues is a journey of mythic proportions, during which Milo encounters countless odd characters who are anything but dull.

Norton Juster received (and continues to receive) enormous praise for this original, witty, and oftentimes hilarious novel, first published in 1961. In an introductory "Appreciation" written by Maurice Sendak for the 35th anniversary edition, he states, "The Phantom Tollbooth leaps, soars, and abounds in right notes all over the place, as any proper masterpiece must." Indeed.

As Milo heads toward Dictionopolis he meets with the Whether Man ("for after all it's more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be"), passes through The Doldrums (populated by Lethargarians), and picks up a watchdog named Tock (who has a giant alarm clock for a body). The brilliant satire and double entendre intensifies in the Word Market, where after a brief scuffle with Officer Short Shrift, Milo and Tock set off toward the Mountains of Ignorance to rescue the twin Princesses, Rhyme and Reason. Anyone with an appreciation for language, irony, or Alice in Wonderland-style adventure will adore this book for years on end. (Ages 8 and up)


" I read [The Phantom Tollbooth] first when I was 10. I still have the book report I wrote, which began 'This is the best book ever.'"
--Anna Quindlen, The New York Times

"A classic... Humorous, full of warmth and real invention."
--The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 1000L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; Reissue edition (1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394815009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394815008
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,374 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Norton Juster is an architect and planner, professor emeritus of design at Hampshire College, and the author of a number of highly acclaimed children's books, including The Dot and the Line, which was made into an Academy Award-winning animated film. He has collaborated with Sheldon Harnick on the libretto for an opera based on The Phantom Tollbooth. The musical adaptation, with a score by Arnold Black, premiered in 1995 and will soon be performed in schools and theaters nationwide. An amateur cook and professional eater, Mr. Juster lives with his wife in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

255 of 265 people found the following review helpful By Zagnorch on September 3, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
After my first reading of 'The Phantom Tollbooth', it became,and still remains, my favorite young reader book. I wrote two book reports on it for my middle school reading classes. I even received a copy of it as a tenth birthday present. Ever since, I've read it from cover to cover at least once a year.
As a child, I enjoyed reading the strange adventures of a bored Milo embarking on his legendary quest. As an adult, I enjoy the tome's play on words, such as the Whether man ("It's more important to know whether there will be weather, rather than what the weather will be") and the Isle of Conclusions, a place you have to jump to to get there. I also love the book's personifying such abstract concepts as statistics, like the (literally) half a child that Milo meets who's the end result of the average family having 2.58 children. It also has neat takes on people's points of view, like the boy who grows down, rather than up. Needless to say, it's pretty apparent that even though I loved this book as a kid, I appreciate it much more as an adult.
If you remember reading this as a child, I strongly recommend you give it a look again. You'll likely pick up on quite a few things in the story that you might not have gotten the gist of in your youth!
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148 of 153 people found the following review helpful By Kikyo C. on June 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
I first had this book read to me by my third grade teacher, and begged my mother to buy it for me soon thereafter, that I might read it for myself. It was my first "favorite book" (for all those what-are-your-favorite-book questions), and it continues to be a treasured classic on my shelf.
The story follows the journey of Milo, a boy bored of basically everything around him. One day he receives a mysterious package that turns out to be a tollbooth. For lack of anything better to do, he puts it together and begins to play, only to find himself driving in an entirely different world. There he meets all sort of curious creatures, from a giant watchdog (literally, a dog whose body is a watch) and a humbug the size of a person. Juster plays with words as if they were tangible objects to juggle, and continually surprises the reader by turning ordinary events into magical occurrences. This book very much exemplifies the quote (and I apologize for not naming the speaker, who slips my mind at this moment) "The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to get sharper."
Although Norton Juster's tale will probably never receive as much wild acclaim as the Harry Potter series, The Phantom Tollbooth nevertheless exhibits its own quiet charm. It is full of original characters and entertaining events, and I heartily recommend it for any child, or adult for that matter, who would like to be amused for a few hours on a rainy afternoon - especially if you think there's nothing to do! It is a wonderful book to read to a child, and the simple black and white drawings scattered throughout the text belie the vivid pictures that Juster paints with his words.
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352 of 380 people found the following review helpful By Amanda Richards HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on April 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
Milo’s bored with everything

And couldn’t see the reason

For learning math or spelling bees

No matter what the season

At home one day he found a box

Not round, but not quite square


The label did declare

Intrigued, he jumped into his car

Although this was a toy

Through the tollbooth he then passed,

One jaded little boy

He found himself quite somewhere else

It happened very fast


said a signpost that he passed

But in this land there was a feud

Between two stubborn brothers

One thought words were number one

While numbers were the other’s

Milo, Humbug, faithful Tock

Must help to set things straight

Get Rhyme and Reason to return

so the feuding will abate

The brilliance of this story lies

In the author’s verbal skill

The places and the characters

Provide a learning thrill

The characters are wonderful

The plotline never dull

You’ll read this story several times

Until your brain is full

So if you are a child at heart

From two to ninety two

I strongly recommend this one

To you, and you, and you

Amanda Richards, April 22, 2006
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62 of 64 people found the following review helpful By E. Strickenburg on October 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
For those of us who grew up with battered and much-read copies of The Phantom Tollbooth, and who will never think the same way again about phrases like "jumping to conclusions," "half baked ideas," or "spelling bees," it's time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this delightful book. The unforgettable adventures of Milo as he travels to the Land Beyond (in a car that "goes without saying") are being re-released in a beautiful hardback edition. The wonderful pen and ink sketches of Jules Feiffer still dot the landscape of the book, and a new foreword by the author tells the story of how this book came to be.

Adults for whom this book transports them back to childhood will particularly appreciate the wonderful collection of "celebrations" of The Phantom Tollbooth that appear at the end of the book. Some are written by respected children's authors, one is by a professor at Harvard Law School, another by a retired 5th grade teacher. Pulitzer prize winner Michael Chabon explores the importance of Mr. Juster's "acts of punmenship;" Maria Nikolajeva speaks of the crucial influence of this book on her life under the Soviet regime; Pat Scales reminds us to "Never underestimate the intelligence of children." Mo Willems opens his comments thus, "I have the great fortune to enjoy a regular occasional lunch with Mr. Norton Juster. Trust me, you need a great fortune to have lunch with Norton, because he never picks up the tab."

Fifty years after its original printing, this book is just as fresh and delightful as ever. Its word plays are just as surprising, its encouragement of curiosity and warning against ignorance just as pertinent. Whether you're starting into your fifteenth reading of this book or are one of the lucky readers picking it up for the first time, you're in for a treat.
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