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The Phantom Tollbooth [Paperback]

Norton Juster , Jules Feiffer
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (364 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 12 1988
This ingenious fantasy centers around Milo, a bored ten-year-old who comes home to find a large toy tollbooth sitting in his room. Joining forces with a watchdog named Tock, Milo drives through the tollbooth's gates and begins a memorable journey. He meets such characters as the foolish, yet lovable Humbug, the Mathemagician, and the not-so-wicked "Which," Faintly Macabre, who gives Milo the "impossible" mission of returning two princesses to the Kingdom of Wisdom.

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"It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time," Milo laments. "[T]here's nothing for me to do, nowhere I'd care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing." This bored, bored young protagonist who can't see the point to anything is knocked out of his glum humdrum by the sudden and curious appearance of a tollbooth in his bedroom. Since Milo has absolutely nothing better to do, he dusts off his toy car, pays the toll, and drives through. What ensues is a journey of mythic proportions, during which Milo encounters countless odd characters who are anything but dull.

Norton Juster received (and continues to receive) enormous praise for this original, witty, and oftentimes hilarious novel, first published in 1961. In an introductory "Appreciation" written by Maurice Sendak for the 35th anniversary edition, he states, "The Phantom Tollbooth leaps, soars, and abounds in right notes all over the place, as any proper masterpiece must." Indeed.

As Milo heads toward Dictionopolis he meets with the Whether Man ("for after all it's more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be"), passes through The Doldrums (populated by Lethargarians), and picks up a watchdog named Tock (who has a giant alarm clock for a body). The brilliant satire and double entendre intensifies in the Word Market, where after a brief scuffle with Officer Short Shrift, Milo and Tock set off toward the Mountains of Ignorance to rescue the twin Princesses, Rhyme and Reason. Anyone with an appreciation for language, irony, or Alice in Wonderland-style adventure will adore this book for years on end. (Ages 8 and up) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


" I read [The Phantom Tollbooth] first when I was 10. I still have the book report I wrote, which began 'This is the best book ever.'"
--Anna Quindlen, The New York Times

"A classic... Humorous, full of warmth and real invention."
--The New Yorker

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself-not just sometimes, but always. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ABC, 123, do-ray-me.... May 6 2004
Let me begin by saying how pleased I am to see so many reviews for this book. I had been under the impression (an impression I now see was thankfully false) that "The Phantom Tollbooth" had fallen into relative obscurity in the last 20 years or so. I'm basing this impression on the fact that you just don't hear anybody mention it anymore. Not librarians or booksellers or teachers or anybody. You don't read current criticism of the book. There aren't huge theses based on its plot or reasonings. And yet... It is a great story with great writing, a lovely (if sometimes overdone) plot, and a merry cast of characters. Accompanied by the delicate illustrations of one Jules Feiffer, the book deserves to be remembered for all time. Hopefully, it will be.
We follow the adventures of Milo in this story. Milo is ennui incarnate. Nothing interests the boy and he has a very difficult time seeing the point in anything at all. One day Milo walks into his room with the plan of finding disinterest there and finds instead that he has been given a large present. It is, according to an accompanying note, one genuine turnpike toolbooth. After assembling the creation, Milo decides to play with it for a little while. He hops into his electric car (possibly the number one toy most desired by children reading this tale), plops some money into the toolbooth, and finds himself in a completely different, and oddly unnamed, new land. It is there that Milo meets and befriends a variety of different creatures and beings. Ultimately, the boy is sent on a journey to locate the princesses Rhyme and Reason from their imprisonment in the sky.
But the brunt of the book, and the parts that most people remember, are the warlike words between the king of Dictionopolis and the Wizard of Digitopolis.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Phantom Tollbooth May 16 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very inventive book; I am a senior and I enjoyed it. My only (personal) comment is that I purchased it, thinking of my grandchildren who are probably too young (ages 5 and 3) to understand it. But I will give it to them for their bookshelf and someday they will enjoy it as much as I did. It was delightful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book Feb. 5 2013
By Mark B
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a classic book, and the 50th anniversary edition looks great. Shipped exactly as I'd expected it to; worth every [nonexistant] penny!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good solid entertaining story Jan. 7 2013
By Suzanne
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
this one was a hit with my typical non-reader; I was lucky to find this book. It is a bit of a throw-back in the classic story-telling sense. My 11 year old son loved it. Not too silly, but engaging enough to keep him reading.
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3.0 out of 5 stars World of amazing play on words, adventure and fun June 22 2012
The Phantom Tollbooth written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer was originally published January 1961. It tells the story of Milo a boy who finds everything boring. He wants whatever he can't have like the grass is always greener on the other side. One day he arrives home to find a mysterious phantom tollbooth was delivered to his bedroom. When he puts it together and drives his little car through he finds himself on a road trip through a mysterious land. He encounters many colorful characters along the way including a ticking watchdog called Tock, the mathemagician and the Whether man. He makes his way through the empires of dictionopolis and digitopolis on his way to find the missing princesses Rhyme and Reason.

Juster weaves a world of amazing puns and plays on idioms and famous English sayings. It was as if there was a lesson that each chapter could teach us. I think that they were hidden enough that kids reading this would understand, but would find the adventure so intriguing they don't realize that they are actually learning something valuable. It's easy to see that the author has a passion for wordplay

The adventure was fun; along the way I learned one shouldn't jump to conclusions, and to be careful of words because what you don't say is important as what you do. The main idea throughout the novel was this battle of knowledge vs ignorance. It was pressed that knowledge was good and ignorance is evil and I think that is a good lesson to learn at an early age.

The book was a very quick read and the pictures were adorable. It really brought the world to life. I liked the fact that the book includes a map of the world as well so I could really picture everything in my head.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I love Tock!!! Jan. 12 2012
By Jong Uk
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really want to stress how lovely and fun it is to read. There are "scratchy" illustrations of the characters, including Tock. Three, Milo, Tock and the Humbug, go on a mission. Everything is so detailed and easily understood, and I really enjoyed reading it.

The Ghost Writer
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fantasy Fun Jan. 17 2003
This was purchased for my 11-year-old grandson, but I read about half of it before I gave it to him! It's a fantasy story, with some hidden lessons!
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5.0 out of 5 stars LISTEN, LAUGH, AND LEARN Dec 9 2008
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
Since first published in 1961 Norton Juster's classic children's story has known many incarnations - hardcover reprints, paperback issues, audio cassette, stage play, and now an unabridged audio version read by the incomparable David Hyde Pierce.

Few of us did not watch the popular television show Frasier, and those of us who wouldn't miss an episode were soon fans of Pierce who played Dr. Niles Crane. He was funny, touching, affecting, and thoroughly enjoyable. The same may be said of this narration. His voice so easily becomes that of a small boy as well as the voices of the many characters met on a fantastic adventure. Listen as young Milo discovers a strange tollbooth in his bedroom. Then, since the rather bored youngster has nothing better to do he gets into his toy car and drives through the booth.

What does he find? An absolutely amazing place, Dictionopolis, chock full of words and inhabited by unusual characters from Tock, a watchdog, to Humbug, an insect.

As youngsters accompany Milo on this journey they will not only discover the meaning of words but much to ponder, such as "The way you see things depends a great deal on where you look at them from, " Or, they might consider this: "'I never knew words could be so confusing," Milo said to Tock as he bent down to scratch the dog's ear. 'Only when you use a lot to say a little,' answered Tock."

Children as well as adults will listen, learn, and have lots of fun with The Phantom Tollbooth as read by David Hyde Pierce.

- Gail Cooke
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