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The Phantom Tollbooth Paperback – October 12, 1988
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"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) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
" 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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Top Customer Reviews
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
ONE GENU-INE TURNPIKE TOLLBOOTH
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
“WELCOME TO EXPECTATIONS”
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
Milo is a boy who is ALWAYS bored. Then, one day he comes home from school to find The Phantom Tollbooth, with directions for assembly, a book of rules, maps, and two coins for the toll. Luckily, Milo also has a driveable toy electric car, so, after the tollbooth is together, he gets in his little car, drops in one of the coins, and off he goes, looking for something that he hopes might not be boring.
And so he goes, having fun times, meeting creatures we all know...a dog with a clock for a body (a watch dog, of course), a large bug that brags without reason and claims always to know the answers (a humbug). He goes to a banquet, but has to eat his words, and wishes he had given a shorter and yummier speech. If I started telling you all the delightful word play I would have to eventually copy the entire book. The author does a magnificent job and his love of words is obvious. No phrase is too small to take literally or juggle into new meanings.
Yet, even in the happy lands of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis....a city that uses numbers like Dictionopolis uses words...there is a problem. Throughout the entire Empire of Wisdom, there is no Rhyme or Reason, who were exiled. Milo, Tock, the watchdog, and the Humbug, start off to bring Rhyme and Reason back to the Empire of Wisdom. They have, of course, many adventures, but the mission doesn't actually become dangerous until they reach the Mountains of Ignorance, where they are beset by terrible demons: the Everpresent Wordsnatcher, who constantly interrupts, the Terrible Trivium, who wastes time doing unimportant, repetitive tasks, the Senses Taker, who wastes time filling out forms with useless information until the person is too bored to go do something more important, the long-nosed, green-eyed, curly-haired, wide-mouthed, thick-necked, broad-shouldered, round-bodied, short-armed, bowlegged, big-footed monster, who is, of course, none of these things, and is, in real life, the Demon of Insincerity. There are too many demons and monsters to mention here, but everyone is a demon you will recognize from your own life, slowing you down, wasting your time, and trying to confuse you.
After a couple of close calls, the three make it to The Castle In The Air and rescue the sisters, bringing Rhyme and Reason back to the Empire of Wisdom. There is much celebration, but Milo, worried that he has been away for so long, gets back in his little car and returns home, where only an hour has passed and the only thing that has changed is Milo, himself, who is no longer bored.
It's a marvelous book, quite suitable for children...none of the "demons" are scary to the youngest child, but I honestly don't believe a child can really appreciate the book's play with words, phrases and numbers. You would have to stop and explain a lot. I'd wait until my kid had a good grounding in the English language before I'd give her this book and, if she didn't like it, I'd try again a few years later. But don't forget to read it yourself. This is one of my favorite books of all time, and five stars just aren't enough to rate it with.
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.