Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Phantom Tollbooth....

The phantom tollbooth

     The first time I had ever heard of The Phantom Tollbooth was when my children read it at school. My son loved it so much that he asked for his own copy and since I was willing to do anything to get him to read I agreed. Armed with just the title I went to the bookstore and asked a young male sales associate to help me locate the book. After asking for the book, the first words out of the sales associate mouth were "that book changed my life, it made me love reading." What more can be said about a book?
     The Phantom Tollbooth is about "a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself--not just sometimes, but always." (pg. 9) One day he finds an interesting present from an unknown sender in his bed room. The gift turns out to be a magic tollbooth that takes him to the Kingdom of Wisdom. While there, Milo has a series of miss adventures as he attempts to save the Royal Princesses Rhyme and Reason. Along the way Milo meets some interesting and colorful people, and he learns some important lessons that change the way he thinks about life.

     To me, the thing that makes The Phantom Tollbooth a classic is its rich language. Norton Jester does a amazing job using words, puns, and figures of speech to create another world--the Kingdom of Knowledge. One of my favorite things in the book are the characters that Milo meets. He's new best friend is Tock, the watch dog with a clock for a stomach which actually goes tick not tock. There a whole list of interesting people along the way: the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for after all it's more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be." (pg. 19 Faintly Macabre the Which, formally the chooser of the perfect word, Alec Bings, the boy that grows down and can see through things, "Chroma the Great, conductor of color maestro of pigment, and director of the entire spectrum" (pg. 124), the Soundkeeper who has decide to lock up all of the sounds and not release any to the people, and the list of characters with word play names goes on.

     Juster also has created a magical Kingdom of Knowledge that Milo travels through. The first stop in his journey is to Expectation, a good place to visit, but you'll never get any where if you stay there. Then it's on to Doldrums where it's illegal to think, yet that's the only way out. Next on the list is Dictionopolis, the kingdom of words where it is market day and words are being bought and sold.  Of course you can't go to Dictionopolis without visiting Digitopolis, because just like words and number,s neither is better than the other. The list of wonderful places Milo visits continues, all with word play names that match their land.


     The illustrations created by famous political cartoonist Jules Feiffer are simple black ink sketches yet they help add meaning to the story and make the Kingdom of Knowledge a colorful place. In the trailer of The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations, Feiffer says that the illustrations came about because Juster had to share every time he wrote 4 more lines of text. So he began to doodle the characters as they were being created.  The pictures have become iconic with the story and anyone who is a lover of The Phantom Tollbooth can't imagine the story without them.

     I love when a book makes you think and The Phantom Tollbooth is a perfect example of a book where your mind is actively engaged. My favorite lines in the book are near the end when Milo has finally reached the twin Princesses Rhyme and Reason. "It's has been a long trip," said Milo, climbing onto the couch where the princesses sat; "but we would have been here much sooner if I hadn't made so many mistakes. I'm afraid it's all my fault." You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason Quietly, "as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons that you do by being right for the wrong reasons." (pg. 233)  In the end the boy who was always bored had discovered a a new way to look at life. Isn't that what a good book suppose to do for you?

      The Phantom Tollbooth is one of the all time classics of children'ts literature. It is meant for true lovers of literature, and even fifty years later it stands the test of time. Just as Milo says at the end of his adventure "Well, I would like to make another trip," he said jumping to his feet: "but I really don't know when I'll have the time. There's just so much to do right here." (pg. 256), there are so many more books for me to read.


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