The Phantom Tollbooth

By Norton Juster

Milo finds himself bored with life and uninterested in all his old toys and games until one day when a mysterious package arrives at his home. He follows the instructions and puts together a tollbooth that leads to lands beyond. Intrigued, Milo decides to head into the unknown and discovers a world full of adventure and possibility. The map that accompanied the tollbooth tells Milo that he has entered the Kingdom of Wisdom, an expansive empire with locations like the Forest of Sight, Valley of Sound, Island of Conclusions, and many, many more. Milo meets some companions early on in his travels, Tock the watchdog that makes a ticking noise, and the Humbug, who join him for his journey. In his interactions with locals, including Azaz (the king of letters) and the Mathemagician (the king of numbers), Milo learns that the Kingdom of Wisdom is slowly falling into chaos. To restore peace and order, Milo must rescue Rhyme and Reason, the princesses that were banished from the land years ago. Along the way, Milo receives courage, encouragement, and gifts from the people he meets. Milo finds that he must use every last piece knowledge he gains from his journey when he faces the demons that live in the Mountains of Ignorance as he valiantly strives to rescue Rhyme and Reason.

“The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster is an absolute classic and a joy for all ages. Through Milo’s adventures in the Kingdom of Wisdom, Juster gently imparts invaluable lessons on the importance of perspective, perils of obstinate misunderstanding, and diversity of experience, all while writing at a reading level that is both accessible to kids and entertaining for adults. Rather than admonishing his readers into learning these lessons, Juster offers them as suggestions, helping the reader to uncover the deeper meaning through their own learning. Every page is filled with new and fantastic information, including characters, locations, and even word choice, both demonstrating and encouraging a vast and active imagination. Juster shows mastery over wordplay, giving new life to (and ironic examples of) phrases, expressions, and idioms. His ideas are so far outside the box that the box probably didn’t even exist for him in the first place. “The Phantom Tollbooth” is written with such loving attention to detail that it is nothing short of a gift for all readers.

In case you couldn’t tell, “The Phantom Tollbooth” is absolutely one of my favorite books. I have read it at least a dozen times, and every time I find myself laughing out loud at the spectacular adventures (and misadventures) of Milo and his companions. Moreover, I am always amazed at his ability to manipulate language. The idea that numbers and words are of equal value is one of the main themes in the book, but even his writing about the importance of numbers relies heavily on wordplay (so I’m pretty sure words are actually the winner). Read it, love it, and read it again. That is my recommendation.

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