Read This Before Time Runs Out!
In The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Milo is a young boy living in what he believes to be a world that’s a bore. But when he comes home one day, he discovers a small purple toy tollbooth in his room, with no sender. But the tollbooth is no ordinary toy. Milo soon discovers it to be a portal to a strange new land, one without rhyme nor reason, one where numbers and letters live in constant battle, and every sound takes on a strange new meaning. There Milo finds himself accompanied by the loyal ticking watchdog Tock, and the cowardly large Humbug. In this world of living words, powerful sounds, and numbers that take multiplication to a another level, Milo will discover a deeper level of understanding here, only if he can save it from a horrible war.
Phantom Tollbooth is one of those crusty dusty books you find all beat up in the shelves of your teacher’s personal book collection and wonder what the heck it could be about. Or perhaps when you gaze upon this book’s mainly turquoise-blue cover, adorned with a scribble of an illustration, it brings back fond (or maybe not so fond) memories of reading it in school. Whatever you may feel while seeing this book, I think as if every child has at least heard about this novel. True, it may be hard to pick up with its nearly illegible drawings and rather odd beginning, but it is a classic. Most classics revolve around mind-numbingly boring topics and literature no kid would be mature enough to truly understand, but Phantom Tollbooth is a classic that takes classic “norms” and eliminates it completely. For one, there are almost no required reading books that I've ever encountered that are fantasy besides Phantom Tollbooth, and that’s for good reason.
Partially the reasons why schools choose books for required reading is because they believe writing in the book will be impactful enough to teach kids how grammar and writing and stuff should be and sound like, or perhaps the writing connects to what kids are learning in Language Arts Class. Phantom Tollbooth does teach something about writing, but nothing to be found boring like sentences or paragraphs, but instead does something in my opinion that no book has done better: wordplay.
As stated before, I don’t think any book before this one has done such a great job at
using wordplay. Wordplay can take a book to a silly place or be used to make a joke, but in Phantom Tollbooth wordplay is crucial. In the book the main character travels to a world where everything literally means what it sounds like. There’s a number town, a sounds town, a feelings town, and you guessed it, a word town. Clever puns like a bee made out of Bs in word town can be used, and while that is a simple example it is hard to condense the sheer creativity Norton Juster unleashes in Phantom Tollbooth.
My copy of The Phantom Tollbooth I promptly stole from my school once the class was done reading it, and I have read it twice since. As someone who struggles with creating witty substance matter along with maintaining varying sentence lengths, Phantom Tollbooth is nice to revisit every once and a while to get inspired. But every time I finish Phantom Tollbooth, I can’t help but feel sad and wanting more. The ending is intense and still the author manages to incorporate puns without running the fast-paced feeling. I recommend The Phantom Tollbooth to anyone, really. It’s humor, adventure, and writhing combined makes a great book and an amazing classic.
My stolen copy resides on my bookshelf in the blue section (don’t mean to flex but my bookshelf is color-coded), where I hope no one will find out and make me give it back.