My father is an excellent book narrator. He was in theater in high school and college (because quote “that’s where all the babes were.”) so he does all the voices and all the sounds. He was the ideal father for a bedtime story and my nephews are currently reaping the benefits of his talents. When we were younger my dad would also play rhyming games with my sister and me, driving our mother crazy, and even now he is always there with a pun. All of this is to say The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my favorite children’s books. It reminds me of my dad even though I don’t know if he ever actually read this aloud to me. He must have, it was right up his alley, but I don’t remember. It was just omnipresent in my childhood.
This reading was made even better by opting for the audio-book read by Niles Fraiser (who has a real name, I know) which was like being wrapped up in a big hug by childhood personified.
“Expectations is the place you must always go to before you get to where you’re going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations, but my job is to hurry them along whether they like it or not.”
Milo is a bored young boy who comes home from school one day to discover a map and tollbooth in his bedroom. He sets his sights on Dictionopolis in the Kingdom of Wisdom and begins an adventure that teaches him so valuable lessons. Milo first stops in Expectations, as you do, before getting stuck in the Duldroms, because he stopped thinking. It is there where he meets Tock the Watchdog who joins the trip. Milo eventually makes it to Dictionopolis where he is briefly incarcerated in a jail cell with a Which who tells him about the feuding brothers who banished the princesses Rhyme and Reason from the kingdom. After Milo escapes the jail he attends a banquet in his honor (when you eat your words) and meets King Azaz who lets the boy talk himself into rescuing Rhyme and Reason.
“Every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not.”
Milo sets off to Digitopolis with the Humbug and Tock. The group meets Chroma the Great, Dr. Discord & that Awful Din and the Sound Keeper on their journey. Perhaps I am biased by my love of wordplay but Digitopolis pales in comparison to Dictionoplois. The trio meet the Mathemagician, eat some Subtraction Stew and then trick him into allowing them to continue their efforts to free Rhyme and Reason. Our heroes make it through the Mountains of Ignorance, which is full of demons, and rescue the princesses. Once Rhyme and Reason are restored to Wisdom Milo goes home and his world view is forever changed.
“You can swim all day in the Sea of Knowledge and still come out completely dry. Most people do.”
There are so many wonderful characters- and so many puns- that I could spend all day gushing about the creativity and wonder Juster infused in his literary opus. Juster introduces the complexity of the English language in a fun and engaging way that children can relate to, but most importantly The Phantom Tollbooth is about the power of learning and how an imagination can open up worlds you never knew existed. Juster also uses the princesses to teach children the value of common sense, fitting that they were women😉.
Tollbooth holds up as a classic children’s story because these themes are universal to every generation; I cannot wait to introduce my future children to these charming characters.
“And it’s much the same thing with knowledge, for whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer.”