The Phantom Tollbooth (1961)

“So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”

The Phantom Tollbooth

Author: Norton Juster

Illustrator: Jules Feiffer

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 6.5/10

Now I know what you’re thinking. This is a children’s book! Yes, but so what? As the great C.S. Lewis rightfully noted, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

I remember reading this book for the first time when I was in third grade. The shiny blue cover caught my attention, but what truly had me hooked was the book’s crisp pages that crinkled whenever I turned them. In an attempt to recreate this lovely experience, to grasp at the remnants of my childhood, I decided to purchase the book. Perhaps I would find little nuggets of wisdom within it that had not quite registered when I was younger. And find them I did.

“There are no wrong roads to anywhere.”

The story focuses on a young boy named Milo who is completely uninterested in the world around him. One day, he discovers a mysterious package in his room through which he finds himself in a topsy-turvy world. As he embarks on an adventure of a lifetime, he runs into numerous characters and ultimately discovers that life is anything but a bore.

Maurice Sendak observes that the Tollbooth is primarily concerned with the “awakening of the lazy mind” and treats “the dread problems of excessive specialization, lack of communication, conformity, cupidity, and all the alarming ills of our time”. It does all this while maintaining a light and playful tone (frequently compared to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), conveying truths that we often forget as we go about our hectic lives. Don’t be fooled by Juster’s simple words, they are guaranteed to make you stop and appreciate the wisdom behind them.

In addition, the book contains the scratchy illustrations of Jules Feiffer that are especially fun to examine while reading. It even includes a map of the world within the tollbooth, which is always a big plus in my opinion. A short and easy read for young children, it can also be equally satisfying for adults as well. I’m sure it will put a smile on your face and maybe even draw a low chuckle out of you.

“You must never feel badly about making mistakes … as long as you take the trouble to learn from them.  For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

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2 thoughts on “The Phantom Tollbooth (1961)

  1. Oh heck yes. I read this book when I was sixteen, and it’s still one of my all time favorite books. There’s so many great quotes that come from the Phantom Tollbooth. I frequently read children’s books, and a lot of them have remained on my favorite’s lists, never diminishing with time.

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