Review: The Phantom Tollbooth

This is a children’s book, but it was a really nice break from “normal” in my reading regime.  And DAMN, I wish I had been given this book when I was seven. This probably would have been one of those “classics” that I devoured over and over like Matilda.

The premise is that Milo is bored. And then receives a mysterious present which promises entertainment.  With hefty sighs he passes through the tollbooth “toy” and soon finds himself drawn into adventure in the lands beyond Imagination.

This book had to inspire Terry Pratchett.  The play on words is just too much for the man not to have read it and loved it (in my opinion). With places like Digitopolis and The Sea of Knowledge, which you cross by jumping to Conclusions.  It was punny. Occasionally, I almost groaned and then remembered who the audience is supposed to be. The pums are perfect for an audience of 7-10 year olds.

This book wouldn’t translate well for this exact reason. Some of the idioms (like “eating your words”) might not translate culturally. There is cultural context which I think is awesome but also intimidating. This is a book I would also give to anyone learning English. Telling them to see if they can pick out idioms and put them in context when the English-language-learner might use them.

I checked this out from the library, but I am going to have to buy my own copy to read to Remy. I won’t need it for years, but in the meantime – I have friends. My best friend has a kid who’s almost perfectly aged to read it to right now. And as a short-chapter book…. PERFECT for her. I also think she would find the puns hilarious. I can almost hear her laughter in my head just imagining reading to her. Ok, so I might need to buy two copies – one for me and one for her.

I’m disappointed none of my teachers ever read this book to me. Of course, from about first to seventh grade I don’t remember teachers ever reading to my class. My English teacher in seventh grade read about 10 minutes at the beginning of every class. I remember a lot of my fellow students thinking it was stupid at the beginning of the year, but by the end of the year loving the adventures she took us on. (I spent a good chunk of those times reading the Wheel of Time series… well, what was out at the time).

Even as an adult, this is a book well worth the read. An enjoyable little jaunt through the English language and our approach to both words and a little bit of numbers. I do wish there had been more about Digitopolis, but I imagine Norton just didn’t have as many good math puns in his toolbox and no internet to browse through to pick some up.  There was nothing about graphs. Digitolis should have been in a desert, because plants hate square roots. And nothing about pi! Like the best math puns of all involve pi.  Mmm….. I might make a pie tonight.