The Phantom Tollbooth
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this is an enduring classic, celebrating its 50th anniversary of publication and selected as NPR's November 2011 Kids' Book Club Pick. 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.
What's the story?
Young Milo is bored in school and bored with life, not seeing the point of much of anything. In the midst of this funk, he comes home from school to find a mysterious tollbooth in his apartment and, for lack of anything better to do, hops in his little electric car and drives through it. Ultimately, accompanied by a Watch Dog named Tock and a strange creature called the Humbug, he sets forth on a quest to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason from dire captivity, seeing many peculiar sights and meeting many interesting characters along the way -- as well as getting an introduction to numerous academic concepts.
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 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.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how easy it is not to think about what you're doing, and how much trouble you can get into that way. The book is full of silly examples, but you can probably think of plenty of your own.
What are you most interested in learning about, in or outside of school? What do you find boring? Why do you think it's boring? What might make you change your mind?
If you could go on a quest with your choice of companions, where would you go, what would be your task, and who would you take along?