Novel: The Phantom Tollbooth
Author: Norton Juster
Target Audience: 9-12 years
Publication Year: 1961
Setting: The Lands Beyond; during the exile of the Princesses Rhyme and Reason
A Favorite Quote: “Are you the giant?” asked Tock doubtfully.
“To be sure,” he replied proudly. “I’m the smallest giant in the world.”
My One Sentence Summary: Milo never took much of an interest in life…until he finds himself transported to the Lands Beyond where he must go on an epic quest to free the Princesses Rhyme and Reason from their exile.
What I loved about this book: I was thoroughly entertained by this book when I first read it as a sixth grader (partly, I suspect, because my teacher kept calling it The Phantom Tollhouse, and so she let everyone in class bring in cookies when we finished the book). But even as a young reader, I found the story amusing. I enjoyed reading about the outlandish stops Milo makes while on his quest, such as his journey to the Island of Conclusions. He accidentally jumps there at one point. The book is rife with wit, wordplay, and humor that is accessible on multiple levels. As a teacher, I have used this novel with my students at various points to illustrate different examples of literary terms. (Need a pun? an example of figurative language vs. literal? teaching about synonyms and homonyms?) The book tells an enjoyable story, while at the same time playing with words and language in the most creative of ways.
Major themes: The value of seeing the world from new and/or unusual perspectives; the need for creativity, individuality and imagination in everyday living; education as the means to enlightenment
Who should read this book: This is a must-read for anyone who enjoys wordplay. Readers looking to expand their knowledge of “classics” should read this book. It is also good for anyone who enjoys lighter fantasy–this book is as much a piece of humor writing as it is a fantasy (in my opinion).