Book title: “The Phantom Tollbooth”
Author: Norton Juster
Genre/Audience: Fiction, fantasy; children
Worth the read?: 100%, totally, absolutely yes!
When I started to read this book the other night I was struck by an unusual, déjà-vu-type of feeling. I knew with certainty that I hadn’t ever read The Phantom Tollbooth, and yet I couldn’t seem to break through this odd sensation that I knew what everything looked and sounded like.
It hit me the next afternoon: I sure hadn’t read the book before, but I may have watched the movie! So I did some digging online and found clips from the 1970 animated movie adaptation. As I watched the clips, I found myself transported back in time to a 5th grade classroom, sitting cross-legged on the floor and peering up at a clunky TV strapped to a cart. Yes, I realized, I recognized this movie.
It was a really exciting moment of remembrance—it’s the kind of memory that I would never have been able to recall voluntarily, and even with prompting it took a lot of questioning for the memory to resurface enough to know it was real. But seriously, how cool is it that our brains can just remember crazy stuff like that?!
Anyway, The Phantom Tollbooth is without a doubt one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. It has such a clever plot, includes many twists and turns, and at one point it even gave me quite a fright with its descriptive narration of various monsters. It was wonderfully exciting going on an adventure with Milo, Tock, and Humbug.
It’s no surprise that I loved this book, based on the immense enthusiasm my mom had when we found this copy in a used bookstore. And then, that very same day, one of my greatest friends and literary inspirations had a similar overjoyed reaction at seeing I’d purchased the book.
Their excitement was the perfect amount of hype for this 1961 novel. Not only was the story fast-paced and entertaining, it was even challenging to this 20-something reader. No, not in a “what-does-this-word-mean” sort of way, but in a broader, more conceptual manner.
I’ve read a lot of novels this year, but very few of them have so cleverly and thoroughly displayed a moral message (of course, it’s clear from the start that Milo is out to learn a few lessons, but I digress). I even dogeared a few pages just to share a quote or two with you. [Sure, it’s pretty on the nose, but it’s a kids’ book for cryin’ out loud!]
“You must never feel badly for making mistakes, as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.” – Reason
Isn’t that lovely? And so true!
“You had the courage to try, and what you can do is often simply a matter of what you will do.” – Reason
Ah, I just love these quotes! There were even more spots that I bookmarked, too. Typically when I read books intended for a younger audience, I have to remind myself a few times throughout that I’m not the intended reader, but I didn’t really find myself doing that while reading The Phantom Tollbooth. The writing, even in places where it’s on the nose, it so fluent and energetic that it doesn’t feel cheesy. It always seems to feel totally right for the given scenes.
Also, my love for Tock and Humbug must be stated. I was overjoyed when these two characters hopped into Milo’s car and journeyed with him!
If you haven’t read The Phantom Tollbooth, please get your hands on a copy. Also, just like in Matilda, there were some wonderful illustrations throughout the book! I still say we should lobby for more art in grown up books, too.