Title: The Phantom Tollbooth
Author: Norton Juster
Major Themes: Fantasy, Children’s Fiction
Synopsis: Milo, a bored school boy, is taught that there is meaning to life through adventures in the land of Wisdom.
I was first introduced to The Phantom Tollbooth through a fun children’s book that had excerpts from many different stories in it. It was slightly altered for the book, but the story of the Mathemagician, his subtraction soup, and the Dodecahedron with his twelve faces caught my fancy, and I determined that one day I’d find and read the whole story. Imagine my surprise, then, when I realized that this story I had to read for school was the story that I so enjoyed from the children’s book!
Milo is bored. When he’s in school he wants to be out, when he’s at home he wants to be at school. For him, life has no meaning. One day, a mysterious package arrives at his room—and after opening it, he finds a tollbooth. After driving through per instruction, he is taken to a world where the king of words is at war with the king of numbers, many ordinary sayings are taken literally, and the greatest problem of all is that Rhyme and Reason are banished from the land, producing chaos and disorder.
Through many adventures, Milo comes to realize that life does have meaning, and that we should live a purposeful life. The kingdom is suffering, though—will he be able to bring Rhyme and Reason back to the once-thriving land of Wisdom? Only he can correct the problems of the kingdom—will he be able to survive the difficult quest?
I love how simple, yet deep The Phantom Tollbooth’s story is. My grandma even loves this book! Even though it’s written as a simple child’s story, as I grow older it takes on fresh meaning. The tales are still interesting, but the underlying theme of making whatever we do count is profound. Both adults and children will love this story.
WARNING: Some people may not like the fantasy aspects of the story—other-worldly animals, etc. I didn’t mind them—they were not representing evil as good, or anything like that. Otherwise, the story is fine.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 10 – 12, 12 – 15