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Book Review: The Phantom Tollbooth

Family Days is this Saturday, February 16th from 10 a.m.-1p.m at the Poetry Center. And this Saturday's Family Day's book club feature is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Students do not need to read the book prior to the book club to participate, but if you'd like a preview, check out Wordplay blog volunteer Jeannie Wood's book review of the classic children's tale. Enjoy!

While The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is full of basic ideas of appreciating one’s surroundings and people, the book is written in such a fun and pun-ful way that it can make anyone re-think the words used in daily speech.

When Milo comes home from another boring day at boring school, he finds a box in the middle of his room: “FOR MILO, WHO HAS PLENTY OF TIME,” it reads. Milo is a very bored boy who doesn’t take interest or meaning in much of anything. This strange box begins Milo’s adventure. Literally, by way of the tollbooth, he drives right on through in his toy car, after paying his fee (of course). Milo enters a new world where people grow down, and not up; people buy letters for words at the market instead of food or trinkets; they mine for numbers which are more valuable than rubies.

Milo, with his two new friends, Tock and The Humbug, look for the elegant and necessary Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason. On their way, the three friends literally jump to the Island of Conclusions, venture through the Valley of Sound (which is sadly soundless) and battle through the Mountains of Ignorance. While everything in this story is pretty straightforward (the need for Rhyme & Reason etc.), it still makes one think and explore the nuances of our English language. During a banquet with Azaz (the ruler of Dictionopolis) and his loyal subjects, Milo is offered a half-baked idea to finish as dessert. It said, “THE EARTH IS FLAT” and was covered in delicious toppings. “'People swallowed that one for years,’ commented the Spelling Bee, ‘but it's not very popular these days– d-a-y-s.’”

Jules Feiffer, who has a whimsical stroke that gives each sketch lots of movement, illustrates the book. I found the art to match the story perfectly, it helped give visuals to our English language, something that we don’t see visually interact with our world beyond written letters. Ironically, what the reader learns by the end of the book is not exactly conveyed through words or images – it’s more of a click moment, a reflection on the reader’s life and how they interact with their surroundings. Ultimately, the text encourages children to have positive attitudes regarding their environment, unlike Milo, who is just so bored at the beginning. This is a very fun story, with a lot of weight behind its words that can stick with a child for a long time.

Jeannie Wood is a junior at the University of Arizona studying poetry, astronomy, and Latin. She’s from Northern Arizona and spends her time writing for Wordplay, playing rough with UA’s Derby Cats, and biking. She enjoys disappearing into different areas of the state, and parts of California, on weekends.

Created on: 
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Arizona Board of Regents