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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
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.
Somehow in all my life (until now) I missed this book. It wasn’t until someone made a comparison to it in a review for my first Toonopolis book that I discovered it. That being said, I am quite happy to have found it! The first instinct is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for boys. I think, in a way, Phantom Tollbooth is a step above Alice and turns on the clever wordplay to an even higher level, which is impressive. In Alice, there was no overall purpose behind the nonsense. In Milo’s adventure, however, there is an amazing sense of underlying lessons and learning that can be done using the glut of literal puns around cliches and literary devices.
I could easily picture (or even develop) an extended lesson plan in an English class using Phantom Tollbooth as an anchor. Juster masterfully mixes in humorous dialogue with valuable lessons on perspective (Alec Bings, the boy who grew down instead of up), repetitive diction (the five advisers from DIctionopolis), and jumping to conclusions (literally, with the Island of Confusion). The most impressive to me, however, was easy to pass over because very little time was spent on it: the various monsters on the Mountains of Ignorance. A great lesson in a middle school English class would be to take one of the monsters mentioned in brief (such as the Overbearing Know-it-all, Gross Exaggeration, or Threadbare Excuse) and expand on them and why they are such monsters of ignorance even today.
This book is content appropriate for all ages. Much like the aforementioned Alice stories, it takes place in a whimsical other-world with no real consequence or bearing on the real world. In fact, Milo is only gone for an hour and the only change is knowledge on his part. There is no content that would preclude the youngest of readers from being able to enjoy the story.
The mile-a-minute cliches and wordplay, however, lends me to think that this book is best for 10+. In order to fully appreciate some of the literal humor, the reader will have to have enough experience with English language idioms. Luckily, Juster used some of the most common cliches and even a child reading this book 50+ years after its publication should be able to pick up on the majority of the jokes (and lessons) contained in the book.
5/5 Giant Cartoon Mallets from Toonopolis, The Blog's Books For Boys reviews.
Milo battles his way through this land (and monsters!) to rescue the princesses Ryhme and Reason. I discovered this book in a tiny dusty library when I was about in 3rd grade and it was one of the first that really captured my imagination and swept me away - nurturing a new and fierce love of reading. Nostalgia not withstanding, even as an adult I enjoy re-reading this and sharing it with my children.