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The Phantom Tollbooth

A children's adventure novel and a modern fairy tale published in 1961, written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer.

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Saving Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason...

  • May 18, 2009
Pros: Imaginative, Educational and Adventurous!

Cons: Difficult words and concepts for younger children.

The Bottom Line: Wonderful children's fantasy adventure

Milo is never happy where he is and is bored by just about everything! Nothing seems worth the effort to him, until one day a mysterious package arrives containing the Phantom Tollbooth (and accessories!). He enters the Kingdom of Wisdom and begins a grand adventure of self-discovery.

He escapes from the Doldrums (a most Dangerous place!) and makes it to Dictionopolis, the city from which all letters are grown and words are sold at market. There he learns the Power of Words and meets King Azaz the Unabridged, who sends him on a perilous quest. Together with his friends- Tock, the Watchdog who can only Tick, and the easily swayed, cantankerous Humbug, Milo is given the task of bringing the Princesses Rhyme and Reason back to the Kingdom, thus restoring order to the lands. First however, he must get the Mathmagician , Azaz's brother and Ruler of Digitopolis, to agree upon the quest!

Long ago, these brothers quarreled over which was more powerful, words or numbers. Unhappy with the verdict of Rhyme and Reason ,"Words and numbers are of equal value, in the cloak of knowledge, one is warp and the other woof..." the stubborn Kings banished the Princesses to the Castle in the Air. Which was the last thing they ever agreed upon!

They will meet many strange and wonderful characters on their Quest. Faintly Macabre the Which, Alec Bings who sees through things, the Soundkeeper and Chroma the Conductor of Color are just a few who can be found along this long road. They will pass through the strange cities of Illusions and Reality, and even jump to the isle of Conclusions which is easier to get to than it is to leave!

Beyond the Mountains of Ignorance, through dangerous wilderness, guarded by strong and horrible creatures like the "Terrible Trivium, demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs" wait Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason. Will Milo and his friends become the greatest Heroes in the Lands and rescue the wise Princesses? Even though they are certain to get plenty of help in their magical quest and learn many important things along the way, no one ever said it would be easy! One thing IS certain, Milo will never see things in quite the same way again!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ My Thoughts ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Comparable to the timeless writings of Roald Dahl, Norton Juster spins a wonderful tale! Do you hear the words "I'm bored!" from your kids at least once a day? If so, this tale was written especially for them! An imaginative, eye-opening, humorous adventure which encourages children to learn, dream, and appreciate life in all it's splendor.

His many amusing and unique characters are fascinating. This fantasy is rich with grandiose verbiage, plays on words, riddles, snippets of poetry, and puns of all sorts. It emphasizes a love of learning in an entertaining fashion and can lead to an string of questions when reading aloud as a bedtime story, so be prepared! The challenging nature of this book makes it unsuitable for most children younger than seven, but even older readers may have to keep a dictionary handy.

This book is perhaps best introduced to kids when they are beginning to learn about metaphors, puns, similes, and idioms. Ten appears to be a popular age for Teachers to include this work on their reading list. I can say that it continues to appeal even at older ages, and have even known a few adults who have found the book late in life and loved it. The plot is not a complicated one, but the adventure is quite entertaining and the characters immediately likable.

Juster's classic children's fantasy first appeared on shelves in 1961, and has since been performed on stages around the world and transferred to the medium of film. I have only experienced this as a written work, and my favorite copy of this educational fantasy has lovely little whimisical illustrations by Jules Feiffer that really help to flesh out the Wonderland-ish characters. There aren't very many illustrations, but that seems to make those few illustrations really special. At 272 pages, The Phantom Tollbooth is not an especially lengthy read, but certainly not digestable in a single night by young readers. The emphasis on the importance of learning and aware involvement with the world around us are lessons we can carry throughout our lives, and Juster makes it a grand journey! Even though I always preferred Words to Numbers myself, I love that this book illustrates that All forms of Knowledge are worthy of respect. A truly unique adventure, this classic piece of children's literature is a must have for bright booklovers.


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More The Phantom Tollbooth reviews
review by . June 21, 2010
In terms of structure and basic plotline, this novel is very comparable to Lewis Carrol's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  Both revolve around a child protagonist who makes an epic journey through an imaginary world.  Additionally, both include a cast of fantastical characters who represent to a certain degree different philosophical concepts or embody various worldviews.  However, as much as I view Alice as a classic, I've always been more …
Quick Tip by . October 07, 2010
Extensive vocabulary to stretch young readers and still an entertaining fantasy adventure for older readers
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
I read this years and years ago, but there are a ton of scenes from it that stick with me, which must mean that there's something to it!
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid! Everyone should read it! :)
review by . June 27, 2010
This book was incredibly formative for my early literary years. It tells the tale of a young boy travelling through fantastical and fascinating landscapes, of time and alphabet and number. With a faithful companion and a perilous quest, this journey cannot help but engage and attract the reader. I have yet to be able to find this book again, as I'd love to read it now that I've grown up.
Quick Tip by . June 25, 2010
An interesting read for kids. I liked it as a kid and just devoured it within days.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
I think I liked this more than my kids did.
Quick Tip by . June 14, 2010
a great read for children
Quick Tip by . June 14, 2010
Such a classic!
Quick Tip by . June 12, 2010
Probably my favorite children's book ever. I recommend it to everyone everywhere.
About the reviewer
Quinn Blackburn ()
Ranked #10
Hello, my name is Quinn. :o) I also answer to Mom, YaYa, and occasionally Entwife. I enjoy Beauty wherever I find it... Nature, Music, Art in all its forms... I believe these to be true and sacred things … more
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About this book


The Phantom Tollbooth is a children's adventure novel and a modern fairy tale published in 1961, written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. It tells the story of a bored young boy named Milo who unexpectedly receives a magic tollbooth  one afternoon and, having nothing better to do, drives through. He finds himself in the Kingdom of Wisdom. There he accepts a quest to rescue the princesses of the kingdom, acquires two faithful companions, and has many adventures. The book is full of puns, and many events, like Milo's sudden jump to the Island of Conclusions, are the consequences of taking English language idioms literally.

Juster claims his father's fondness for puns and The Marx Brothers' movies were a major influence. The Phantom Tollbooth was an "instant classic" when it was first published in 1961. Critics have compared it to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in terms of classic appeal and importance.

The book has been translated into several languages.
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ISBN-13: 978-0881036961
Author: Norton Juster
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Publisher: Bt Bound
Date Published: October 01, 1999
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