Fiction Fridays: The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth
So, this book is for the older crowd. I don’t think I read the phantom tollbooth until I was 12, but that’s definitely not a minimum age…if I had found it earlier I definitely would have engulfed myself in it by an age of seven. I still reread this book at 23 – its one of those classic chapter books that you can’t let go of, like The Little Prince. So much childlike wisdom in such a small book…I love it! A writer for the New Yorker has been quoted saying that The Phantom Tollbooth is ”wonderful for anybody old enough to relish the allegorical wisdom of Alice in Wonderland and the pointed whimsy of The Wizard of Oz“.
The story follows a young boy named Milo who receives a Tollbooth as a gift. One day he drives through it with his toy car, and he is transported to the Kingdom of Wisdom. Here he meets lots of new friends and finds himself on a quest to save two princesses in order to bring back peace to the land. It’s an exciting story to follow and expands the imagination to a whole new colorful level.
The Phantom Tollbooth has two major sides to it. The first side revolves completely around the English language. You can’t go two sentences in this book without finding Juster playing with language in various forms, most frequently through the use of puns. Reading the book, you will become well acquainted with Tock, a “watchdog” who has a clock attached to his body. You eventually learn that Tock can fly because, well, time flies. You will also come across people who quite literally eat their words, and a Senses Taker who robs people of their senses by wasting their time and asking senseless questions. This is so great for the child’s mind because their thoughts already conjure up these silly pictures whenever an adult makes a passing comment. How wonderful is it for Juster to see into that child’s mind and be able to translate it to story form? So witty, I just love it.
The other side of the Phantom Tollbooth surrounds little tidbits of wisdom imparted by various characters or puns along the way. For example, children can learn all about self perception by the man who plays both the skinniest fat man in the world, and the fattest skinny man in the world. Another big lesson that comes from this book is to cherish both rhyme and reason. These are the names of the 2 princesses Milo rescues, and they bring peace to the Land of Wisdom. And these are just two of the million lessons your child (and you!) can pull from this great book.
So, why am I telling you about the annotated version and not just the original? Because you can learn so much! Maybe it’s just the writing nerd in me, but I love reading all about Juster’s history and what inspired each pun. There is so much in this book by way of both imagination and creativity. It is so great being able to have a peek into where it all began. I got this book for my nephew (reading it first myself on the train ride to see him) and he wasn’t able to put the book down. It was a birthday party for him, and he had friends around to play with, but he was too busy reading all the notes about the book. It’s a great way to put a new spin on a favorite! But if you don’t want to splurge on the annotated version, please take the time to read the original…I promise you won’t regret it.