Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Phantom Tollbooth

As we were coming back from Abuja (capital of Nigeria) yesterday, I finished reading The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster to my family. It is a thoroughly delightful read-aloud.

Milo is a bored child who doesn't enjoy anything in life. One day a mysterious phantom tollbooth appears in his bedroom, and he takes off on the most imaginative journey I have ever heard of. The whole book is loaded with incredible plays on words and new ways of looking at language. Milo tries to solve a feud between King Azaz of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis. Along the journey he meets about 20 other memorable characters.

Five-year-old David loved the book as well as dad. Of course David didn't understand everything, but many times he chortled with laughter as only a five-year-old can. Here's David's favorite line from an interesting character named Canby: " I'm as smart as can be," he remarked in twelve different languages, "and I'm as stupid as can be," he admitted, putting both feet in one shoe."

Eight-year-old Tobi understood most of the plays on words, but some were so subtle that I had to explain them to him. His favorite character was Officer Shrift who was two feet tall and almost twice as wide. He laughed hilariously at the description of Officer Shrift riding a long, low dachshund.

Here's my favorite passage from yesterday:

"But why do only unimportant things?" asked Milo, who suddenly remembered how much time he spent each day doing them.

"Think of all the trouble it saves," the man explained, and his face looked as if he'd be grinning an evil grin--if he could grin at all. "If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you'll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won't have the time. For there's always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing..."

The book comes to a satisfying conclusion. When Milo is back home, he discovers that he has only been gone for an hour, even though it seemed like days or even weeks. The next day, he can't wait to take another trip via the phantom tollbooth, but it has disappeared from his room. Only a note that says: "For Milo, who now knows the way" is there in its place. After his initial disappointment, Milo realizes that he now has so many thoughts and ideas of his own that he doesn't need the tollbooth after all.

Fantasy is my least favorite genre of literature, but this book is a real winner.

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