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.
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! 'Late
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.
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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