A Middle Grade Re-Read Review: The Phantom Tollbooth

September 14, 2020 Uncategorized 6 ★★★

A Middle Grade Re-Read Review: The Phantom TollboothTitle: The Phantom Tollbooth
Author: Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: Parts of this were delightful, but it was too simplistic for me.

“For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams. . . .” (source)

I was happy to have the book blurb to share with you, because it highlights the two main qualities of this story. First, it’s full of puns. I found some of these too simplistic, but those that turned into extended, comedic bits were often truly delightful. Second, it’s definitely a book that’s trying to make a point. The author desperately wants to convince kids that learning things is important and mostly accomplishes that by explicitly telling them so, over and over. There were a few morals resulting from the extended puns that were more insightful though. One of my favorites was a section playing on how something can be both mathematically correct and completely nonsensical at the same time.

This is one of very few books that I read as a child and have chosen to re-read as an adult. I think I probably read this in about sixth grade. What I primarily remember about it was how clever and adult it felt to me. I was probably only just starting to read books in the 300 page range and I’m sure I thought I was smart for following all the puns too. Funnily enough, one of the main thing I notice reading now is how obvious it is that this is a kids’ book. While parts of it were a lot of fun, the writing and plot were both simplistic. It was, and seems intended to be, quite didactic. While I recognize the value of stories like this for kids, I don’t think middle grade books are my thing. Fortunately, I did still enjoy it and I didn’t love it so much as a child that my changed perspective felt painful. I’d definitely recommend this for reading with your bookish kids.

6 Responses to “A Middle Grade Re-Read Review: The Phantom Tollbooth”

  1. Angela

    I have fond memories of this book from my childhood, but I wonder how it would hold up for me today, too! I don’t read a ton of middle-grade.

    • DoingDewey

      Honestly, I was only brave enough to read this one because it wasn’t my favorites. With books I read over and over again as a kid, I think I’d rather keep remembering them as being completely wonderful 🙂

  2. Jenny @ Reading the End

    I definitely remember this being didactic, but it was doing it in such a like… goofy way that I wasn’t as bothered as I might otherwise have been. Also I was the kind of kid who really really wanted to understand all the Life Rules so I was probably less bothered by didacticism back then than I would otherwise be. I should reread this! It’s been a minute! Also, the publisher should reissue a fancy hardback anniversary edition sometime soon.
    Jenny @ Reading the End recently posted…Review: Piranesi, Susanna ClarkeMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      I think I agree with you that this was goofy enough that the book being didactic wasn’t, in and of itself, a problem for me. It was part of what made this feel like a kids’ book to me though. Hopefully they will come out with a new edition you could pick up if you decide to revisit it 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      The jumping to conclusions thing is in this one and strangely, it’s one of the details that had stuck with me too! That was one of the parts I still enjoyed pretty well on a re-read 🙂

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