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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Being dedicated to advancing the pursuit of knowledge, this book is fairly packed with educational material and clever perspectives on it. Wordplay and math problems are strewn exuberantly, along with commentary on social ills wrought by ignorance and mental laziness. Many of the whimsical characters Milo encounters along the way invite readers to look at long-held assumptions in new ways -- e.g., the airborne Alec Bings, who thinks Milo must be quite old to have his feet touching the ground already.
This book is driven by the view that learning is not only good and fun, but also a moral imperative. In the "Appreciation" foreword added in 1996, Maurice Sendak points out that it was actually compared to the robust Puritan spiritual tract Pilgrim's Progress for its "awakening of the lazy mind." The book begins with main character Milo thinking that life is boring and the pursuit of knowledge is worthless, but by the end, Milo has both the interest and the tools for learning, and a considerably more upbeat outlook.
Positive Role Models
Most of the characters except Milo are essentially figures that exist to illustrate some concept (as with the princesses Reason and Rhyme) or cartoonish wordplays (as with Tock, the Watch Dog, whose midsection is, literally, a watch). Milo learns something from each of them.
Violence & Scariness
There are confrontations with demons, but comical villains like the Overbearing Know-It-All and the Terrible Trivium are unlikely to strike terror into the most tender-hearted of readers.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this is an enduring classic that has charmed readers for more than 50 years. For some younger kids, the academic subject matter may be a little too advanced, and hence boring. Different aspects will appeal to different kids -- some will find the puns hysterical, others will gravitate more to the math or Jules Feiffer's whimsical illustrations. If you're looking for robust, swashbuckling adventure with three-dimensional characters and a fast-moving plot, this is not your book. But if you want a vivid illustration of the perils of jumping to conclusions, The Phantom Tollbooth is for you. Note: The 1970 animated film version fails to convey the book's depth.
Is It Any Good?
Clearly a book by an unabashedly brainy adult, it evangelizes intellectualism with glee, which some kids are going to find more entertaining than others. But a book does not remain a hit for more than half a century without striking a chord in the hearts of a sizeable audience, and THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH has garnered a huge, multi-generational following.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.