The Phantom Tollbooth

While book shopping recently for a student of mine, I caught a glimpse of a very familiar spine.  I pulled the book down from its high shelf, and stared at the cover of a very familiar, but long-forgotten story.

When I was little my very first job, at the age of 8 or 9, was to write book reviews for the local book store.  At the time I was totally obsessed with mystery novels; thus, every book at the store that fit into that category had a brief review, painstakingly written by me on a tiny little notecard.  But, if you weren’t interested in mysteries, my contributions to the children’s book area were not very helpful.  The employees of the store gently suggested that I expand my horizons a bit, and they put The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, in my hands.  Shortly thereafter a whole new literary world was opened up before me!

This is a very quirky story about a ten-year-old boy named Milo who is feeling very blue. There is nothing that excites him, and he has woefully resigned himself to a life of boredom.  That is until Milo returns from school one day to find a curious package that contains a giant toy tollbooth in his bedroom.  Milo is all too happy to put the mysterious tollbooth together, and he takes a ride through it on his toy car.  Shortly thereafter he is whisked off to the Kingdom of Wisdom where his magical adventure begins. On the way, Milo visits Dictionpolis, the land of words, Digitopolis, the land of numbers, and meets an odd cast of characters including the “watch” dog Tock, the Mathemagician, Officer Short Shift, and the Lethargarians.   Milo’s unexpected adventure ultimately shows him just how fascinating life can be.

The Phantom Tollbooth book is full of puns, and beyond clever.  Many events in the story, like Milo’s sudden jump to the Island of Conclusions, are the consequences of taking English language idioms literally.  I highly recommend it for children of all ages.  It was turned into a movie in 1970, so after you read the book, you can watch it on the big screen too!

Click here to purchase The Phantom Tollbooth from

Click here to purchase The Phantom Tollbooth movie from



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