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The Phantom Tollbooth

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Librarian's Note: For an alternate cover edition of the same ISBN, click here.

This beloved story -first published more than fifty years ago- introduces readers to Milo and his adventures in the Lands Beyond.

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. . . .

248 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1961

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About the author

Norton Juster

53 books907 followers
Norton Juster was an architect and planner, professor emeritus of design at Hampshire College, and the author of a number of highly acclaimed children's books, including The Dot and the Line, which was made into an Academy Award-winning animated film. He collaborated with Sheldon Harnick on the libretto for an opera based on The Phantom Tollbooth. The musical adaptation, with a score by Arnold Black, premiered in 1995. An amateur cook and professional eater, Mr. Juster lived with his wife in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 12,816 reviews
Profile Image for Patrick.
Author 65 books233k followers
November 9, 2015
I just finished this book with my oldest boy. I've been reading a chapter or two out loud to him every night when we can manage it.

I never read The Phantom Tollbooth before, so it had no particular nostalgic appeal to me. But I'd heard about it, and it was in my house (somehow) so I decided to give it a try.

Here's the short version: Meh.

It's not awful. But it wasn't great, either.

Overall, I found reading it to be a bit of a slog. When thinking ahead to reading time at night, I want to be excited. It's special time with my boy. But instead when I thought about this book, I mostly wanted to get through with it I could start reading a different, more engaging, book together with my boy.

Here's the long version:


1. No plot or tension.

I'm fairly sure the formal term for a book like this is a picaresque. It's mostly just a series of adventures and visits to interesting places. There's not much of a plot.

And before you get all impressed that I know that term, I'd like to mention that I only learned it in 2010 by listening to an interview with Neil Gaiman where he was discussing American Gods. I remember thinking, "Huh, apparently I've written a picaresque. I wish I'd known that about 10 years ago…."

Here's the thing, while plot isn't the focus of a picaresque, you can still tell an engaging story. There's plenty of tension in American Gods. There's a mystery and action and questions that need answering. "What's up with Wednesday?" "What's going on with Shadow's wife?" "What's happening in this small Midwestern town?" And there is the overarching story arc about the war between the new gods and the old gods.

My point is, there's a lot of things going on in American Gods. Many things to make you curious. Many things to pull you into the story in addition to the interesting people and places that we meet through the course of the story.

Phantom tollbooth doesn't have that. It's the story of a boy who goes places and stares around in amazement as things happen around him. He and his companions (for the most part) don't do anything. They're reactive, not active, and they're not particularly clever… Which leads to my next gripe…

2. The characters aren't that interesting.

If your main character's motivation is that he's bored… well… that's not really edge-of-the-seat material is it?

Don't get me wrong. I don't need an apocalypse. I don't need something to blow up. But we need *something* to provide excitement in the story. The Laura Ingalls Wilder books were fucking gripping. There were snowstorms and locusts and fucking bears. Just getting water or going to town was an adventure in those books.

Charlie and the Chocolate factory is a picaresque too, of a sort. Every different piece of the factory is like a separate land and adventure. But Charlie is *interesting.* And Wonka is doubly so. The grampa and all the other kids might be fairly simple characters, but they all have personalities.

I just wasn't feeling the same way about the people in this book. Most of them were just some clothes loosely draped around rather thin jokes.

3. It's Chaffy.

There's a lot of what I consider "Junk Dialogue" in this book. People talking without saying anything purposeful. People arguing about nothing in particular. People repeating themselves. And a *lot* more description than I was particularly interested in.

I know it might seem hypocritical for someone who wrote a 400,000 word novel to bitch about another author's economy of phrase. But the truth is, I make sure every scene and sub-scene in my books accomplish at least three productive things, more if I can manage it.

And let me tell you, when you're reading a book out loud, you can tell when it's full of pointless description and dialogue. When you're reading to yourself you can skim without hardly realizing it. Not so when you're reading aloud to a child.


1. I got to experience Oot's first pun. I think it was witch/which. I got to see the light go on in his head when he understood the joke. That's worth a lot.

(No. Wait. It was the Watchdog. He's a dog with a clock in his body.)

He also enjoyed the fact that the Watchdog could fly a little because of the expression "time flies."

That said, he didn't get about 85% of the jokes in the book. They were just too abstract language-wise.

2. Some of the concepts were fun and clever.

I'm willing to admit that Oot is simply too young for this book. There were jokes about multiplication in there. And jokes about turns of phrase that he didn't know. And puns about expressions he'd never heard.

But I don't think it's entirely fair to blame it on his age. There was a demon in there called a Dilemma that chased people and tried to gore them on its horns. You could easily be in your twenties and not know the expression, "on the horns of a Dilemma."

3. My boy liked it well enough.

When I asked him, he said he liked it. What's more, he remember the events and the characters better than I did.

That said, he never came up to me holding the book and said, "Let's read some more!" Like he did with Spiderwick, the Hobbit, or many others. So this probably counts as a pretty lukewarm endorsement from him as well.

So… yeah. Didn't love it. Didn't hate it. The sum total probably comes down slightly on the irritated side of indifferent.

My advice? This is a book that your kid probably needs to be 10 to really enjoy, as it's got a lot of wordplay in it. And honestly, 12 might be better.

Even so, I can think of a lot of books that are much more enjoyable with a lot less effort.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
August 18, 2018

as part of my personal reading challenges for 2017, once a month i will be revisiting a favorite book from when i was a little bitty karen and seeing if it holds up to my fond memories and determining if i can still enjoy it as an old and crotchety karen.

fingers crossed.

so: first things first. in answer to the question 'does this book hold up?' here’s what’s weird. i have no memory of reading this book as a kid. i know i read it - i remember all of jules feiffer’s illustrations and i have strong memories of taking it off the library shelves and adding it to my stack on a number of occasions, and i also remember it being read to me in elementary school in my AT program (that’s ‘academically talented,’ thank you very much). however, reading it for this project, it was completely unfamiliar to me - i had no nostalgic shiver of recognition, nor any anticipation of what was to come. the only explanation i have for this blank is that while reading this book as a child, i also witnessed an unspeakable crime, after which i was kidnapped and had my memory wiped, accounting both for the lack of memory and the simultaneously strong memory of borrowing it from the library multiple times.

which is fine - i have no interest in remembering unspeakable crimes, and the memory wipe allowed me to experience this book as though for the first time.

baby-karen review:


adults-only this time, i guess. this book is beyond delightful - silly, yes but also genuinely funny and smart. full of puns and paradoxes and wordplay and wonderland-logic, but more sophisticated and less loopy than wonderland - it’s a clever kind of humor that appeals to both kids and adults and also happens to be full of truths:

…you can swim all day in the Sea of Knowledge and still come out completely dry. Most people do.

sure, there are lots of lessons, like the importance of choosing your words with precision, and the necessity of common sense and imagination in learning, as it contributes more lasting value than rote memorization, which is basically the point of this book - milo is a smart enough kid, but he is bored by school, because he has no framework for applying his learning:

”I can’t see the point in learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February.”

but once he passes through the magical phantom tollbooth, he begins to actually apply his brain and creativity towards problem-solving adventures both linguistic and numerical, meeting many crazy characters along the way, taking some on as traveling companions, like the wonderful watchdog. who is a dog and a watch at once.

like the watchdog, the lessons milo learns revolve around the ideas of what is possible - broadening his educational perspective, transcending the limited brainbox of formal education and embracing a less structured, more experiential approach to learning.

”one of the nicest things about mathematics, or anything else you might care to learn, is that many of the things which can never be, often are.”

this is one of those revelations that can change a person, and juster reinforces it in a number of ways:

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

which is a reasoning that brings to mind that alice in wonderland quote:

Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

but it’s a different treatment - in alice, the tone is just a giggle; it’s silliness in a vacuum. juster’s take is more encouraging and ultimately more useful as a life lesson, fostering self-confidence:

”…you had the courage to try; and what you can do is often simply a matter of what you will do.”

that is not to say that this is a through-and-through feel-good book. some of the realizations are very sobering slaps:

”But if all the roads arrive at the same place at the same time, then aren’t they all the right way?” asked Milo.

“Certainly not!” he shouted, glaring from his most upset face. “They’re all the wrong way. Just because you have a choice, it doesn’t mean that any of them has to be right.”

this is an amazing insight and i wish i DID remember this book from my childhood days, because lord knows it is a useful lesson and it’s one that many adults haven’t figured out.

of course, we’ve figured out some of the other lessons the hard way:

”You’ll find,” he remarked gently, “that the only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that’s hardly worth the effort.”


the last thing i want to call out is this illustration of the terrible trivium, which looks like nothing less than an early version of slender man:

the terrible trivium is just as insidious as slender man - he doesn’t make kids stab their friends, but as the demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit, he definitely brings his share of struggle to us all with his outlook:

”If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won’t have the time. For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing…

which is interesting to me, because i encountered a similar philosophy recently in Arbitrary Stupid Goal, and when i read it there, i applauded it:

A goal that isn’t too important makes you live in the moment, and still gives you a driving force. This driving force is a way to get around the fact that we will all die and there is no real point to life.

But with the ASG there is a point. It is not such an important point that you postpone joy to achieve it. It is just a decoy point that keeps you bobbing along, allowing you to find ecstasy in the small things, the unexpected, and the everyday.

What happens when you reach the stupid goal? Then what? You just find a new ASG.

i recognized and appreciated this way of thinking, completely forgotting about juster’s version of it until i sat down to write this review and noticed the parallel. which makes my theory about some sort of book-related memory wipe implanted by hypnotic suggestion in my formative years more or less fact.

so, if you haven’t read this one yet, or if you have had your own memory of having read it wiped, get on it. and if you have bred children, make them read it. and do not let them anywhere near unspeakable crimes. which should go without saying, but still.

JANUARY: wait till helen comes

FEBRUARY: the little gymnast

MARCH: zucchini

APRIL: something queer at the library

MAY: good-bye pink pig

JUNE: the girl with the silver eyes

shark week was so much later this year than usual that it threw me off, so i'm reading this one just under the gun, and trying to finish two more shark books before the week of festivities ends. YEESH!

come to my blog!
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.7k followers
January 29, 2020
‘welcome to the island of conclusions!’
‘but how did we get here…?’ wondered milo.
‘you jumped, of course!’ explained canby.

i must have read this book for the first time when i was about 9 or 10 and i will forever attribute it to how my love of words, puns, and silly idioms began. its a major part of my sense of humour, one that started developing with this story. and the wordplay in this is even more enjoyable as an adult.

there are many reasons why reading childrens literature past childhood is beneficial for a reader. where i was always enamoured by milos adventures to dictionopolis and beyond, its now the meaning behind his journey that really hits home.
‘so many things are possible just as long as you dont know they are impossible.’
these types of messages arent always missing from adult literature, but rarely are they presented in such an innocent and hopeful way. i think its a good thing to momentarily revert back to the mindset of a child, where dreams are infinite and limits are suggestions.

5 stars
Profile Image for Marie Lu.
Author 47 books134k followers
August 19, 2012
I don't remember much about this book, except that I loved it to pieces, and that the subtraction stew always made me really hungry.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,802 reviews1,234 followers
October 3, 2016
My mother got this for us when I was 8 and it was first published in 1961. I still own that original edtion and it is not in great shape due to multiple readings. This is as much an adult as a children's book. Although I loved the story right away, it was more meaningful as I got older and I understood all the plays on words and deeper messages. Still worth rereading every decade or so as an adult, and it remains one of my favorite books. It's a very witty book. I'm a sucker for maps, however basic, and there is a map (of the pretend world written about) in the inside covers of the book. A very good fantasy with a very real heart.
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.6k followers
June 12, 2017
Is this the cleverest book of all time? I think this is the cleverest book of all time.

I so deeply enjoyed rereading this. When I was younger, I would only keep books that I would reread over and over - and I would pick up each one, seriously, an average of 4 to 6 times. I believe this absolute insanity is why I was unable to reread for the subsequent, like, 6 years. But now we're BACK. And it's been a mixed bag, but rereading this was just the greatest.

There were so many puns and allusions and metaphors I didn't understand the first (eleven) times I read it, so they made rereading this like a whole new experience. I read it in a sitting! It was such a blast.

And - it thrills me to be able to state - THAT SETTING THOUGH!!!!! God, I want to drop a visit to the Lands Beyond so badly. Don't you guys wish you could jump into books, just for a hot second? Or, at the very least, a mysterious tollbooth would be given to you to grant you passage into a mysterious kingdom filled with puns. I mean, come on.

This is only going to be a mini review because I don't even know how much I can joke about this book. I have a major soft spot for it, okay?! We all have our things.

Bottom line: Totally give this book a try. It's compelling, and clever, and short, and the characters are so cute, and the setting is so fascinating and creative and fun and amazing, and the whole thing will stick to ya like glue. I'll never be able to escape this book, and I'm not mad about it.
Profile Image for Ahmed  Ejaz.
549 reviews323 followers
August 3, 2018
You can swim all day in the Sea of Knowledge and still come out completely dry.
After a long time, this is the first children book I've read. It's a good book. I read this book because of its amazing cover. And the fact that it's my cousin's course book. She lent it to me and I read it in three sittings. And loved it!

It's the story of a bored child, Milo who doesn't find anything interesting in the real world. One day he gets Phantom Tollbooth as present which allows him to go to the Land Beyond. The Land Beyond has two main and important kingdoms, Dictionpolis and Digitopolis. Dictionpolis is ruled by the king of words, Azaz. And Digitopolis is ruled by a Mathemagician. Both kingdoms are at conflict because their kings are biased of their own way of communication. The matters in kingdoms have become worse because of the absence of two princesses, Rhyme and Reason. Milo goes on the quest to save them along with his two companions, a dog and a bug.
Words and numbers are of equal value, for, in the cloak of knowledge, one is warp and the other weft.
=> To be honest, I was expecting it to be very funny. But it had one or two of such moments.
=> I loved Dictionpolis more than Digitopolis. In Dictionpolis, one *literally* eats his own words. LOL!
And in Digitopolis, there is Subtraction Stew. By eating this, you will feel more hungry than before! 😅
=> This book contains some indirect lessons which I think is a good way to represent.
=> The scenes of Silent Valley were the best ones. The way he made it un-silent was incredible.
=> I think the way he rescued the princesses were little bit dull. Not upto my satisfaction.
You can get in a lot of trouble mixing up words or just not knowing how to spell them.

All in all, it's a good book. Recommend it!

23rd July 2018
Profile Image for Mia.
336 reviews205 followers
August 2, 2017
I am a reader, and I measure my life in books, and the ones that I read in my very early years were probably the most formative. You can learn a lot about a person by what their childhood was like- whether they played outside all the time or preferred to stay indoors, whether they read or didn't, whether they drew or played sports or learned instruments and languages.

I, for one, loved words. I read many books with large words in them, and so I was always asking my mother what they meant, or looking them up in the dictionary, or trying to just guess. I loved long words, short words, words that were fun to say. I would spell them, write them down, sometimes just say them aloud in strings of total gibberish. Even as a child, I remember being amazed that I could make sounds with my mouth that other people could recognise and understand. The idea that I could say the word "apple," which really is an odd word when you look at it long enough, and that somebody else would know exactly what I was referring to was thrilling.

I used to play a word association game I made up where I would think of a word, then think of a word associated with that word, then a word associated with that word, and on and on until I either tried to get back to the word I started with or tried to see how far I could deviate from my original word. So a game might start with the word "pencil" and go from there to "paper," "bag," "rag," "towel," "trowel," "garden," "green," "leaf," "tree," "wood," "paper." Or I might start with "pencil" and go to "lead," "bed," "jumping," "kangaroo," "pouch," "couch," "sofa," "soda," "bubbles." This all took place in my brain, and sometimes I'd just sit in my room for hours and do this. (I would be lying if I said I didn't still do it occasionally.)

I loved books, too. I loved the idea that somebody could put words down on paper and that I could create a world in my mind based off of those words. From a young age, I followed characters, tried to predict plots, and lived in that lovely world somewhere between reality and imagination that we call literature.

All of this boils down to the fact that, to me, language was a playground. I'd make up words, speak backwards, sometimes go whole stretches of time just spelling out words instead of speaking, like "H-E-L-L-O (space) M-O-M (comma) H-O-W (space) A-R-E (space) Y-O-U (space) D-O-I-N-G (question mark)?" Punctuation, spelling, even fonts and typeface and foreign languages- everything related to words was something I was fond of.

And it all started with The Phantom Tollbooth.

Well, not exactly. I'd been doing a lot of this stuff even before I read the book, but The Phantom Tollbooth really helped to make these qualities stick with me.

Why? Because I felt the way I do whenever I find a great book: that I'm not alone. Norton Juster, through wordplay and illustrations and wit, showed me that language, and, to an even greater extent, knowledge, was a wonderful thing. As I read this book and travelled among the Whether Man, Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason, the Mathemagician, and King Azaz the Unabridged, as I read riddles and jokes and equations and utter nonsense and wise advice and snatches of song, as I ventured with Milo and Tock into the Doldrums and the Lands Beyond, to Dictionopolis and Digitopolis and up over the Mountains of Ignorance, I recognised myself in all of these things, and each one of them told me that I wasn't weird for loving language and reading compulsively and making up words and collecting utterly useless facts. Or more accurately, they told me that I was weird- but that there aren't enough weird people in the world who commit themselves to these things, so it was okay.

You can learn a lot about a person based on the books on their bookshelf: whether they're pristine or worn, whether they're organised or not, whether they've got notes written in the margins or flowers pressed between the covers or the signatures of authors. And if you were to look at my pitifully small bookshelf (the rest of my books reside in two enormous stacks by my bed), you would find a worn, torn, stained, and utterly beloved copy of The Phantom Tollbooth. And perhaps you would be able to tell, just by looking at it, that it taught me one of the most important lessons I've learned: that imagination is a beautiful thing, and even if you think that you're too old for things like word games and math equations and fun facts and puns and stories- things, in short, that bring you knowledge and delight, even if you think you've outgrown them... Deep down, they will never outgrow you.
14 reviews8 followers
July 30, 2007
Anyone who has a passion for words and wordplay will enjoy reading The Phantom Tollbooth. In this charming children's book, author Norton Juster takes us on an adventure with his main character Milo, a young boy who enters a chaotic place called the Kingdom of Wisdom and finds that to restore order in the kingdom, he must save the banished princesses Rhyme and Reason.

When the story begins, Milo gets home one afternoon expecting to go through the same humdrum after-school routine he always goes through. But on this particular day, he arrives home to find a tollbooth waiting to transport him to a faraway place. Soon, Milo is traveling through the Kingdom of Wisdom, seeking to rescue Rhyme and Reason with the help of his companions, Tock the Watchdog and the Humbug.

Along the way, Milo meets some interesting and clever characters, such as the Whether Man (not to be confused with the Weather Man, "for after all it's more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be") and Kakofonous Dischord, Doctor of Dissonance, whom Milo meets on the outskirts of the Valley of Sound. Page after page, Juster's clever puns and witty plays on words make his characters memorable and his storyline entertaining.

On his journey, Milo travels to several places within the Kingdom of Wisdom, learning useful things along the way. In Dictionopolis, for instance, he discovers the abundance of words and the importance of choosing the right word for the right occasion. On his way to Digitopolis, a land ruled by numbers, Milo ends up on the Island of Conclusions. There, he decides to himself, "From now on, I'm going to have a very good reason before I make up my mind about anything," and he learns that "you can lose too much time jumping to Conclusions."

Armed with the knowledge he has gathered on his journey through the Kingdom, Milo finally reaches the Mountains of Ignorance, where he and his faithful companions dodge and outwit various demons and ultimately save the princesses Rhyme and Reason. In the end, Milo is transported back to the present with a newfound curiosity about the world and a greater appreciation for learning.

Juster's humor throughout the story is at times subtle, at times downright silly, but often clever and thought-provoking, making this book an enjoyable read for young and old alike. They say there's a child in all of us, and The Phantom Tollbooth truly is a children's book for all ages.
June 22, 2021

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I'm doing a project where I'm rereading some of my favorite books from adolescence and seeing how they hold up. Some of them are adult books and some of them are children's books. My most recent addition to the project is the delightful middle grade fantasy novel, THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. Including this book on the list might actually be cheating because I read it for the first time elementary school (and also watched the movie, which is supremely creepy in the way that only 1970s movies can be creepy, by which I mean it is basically like a bad acid trip).

THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH is about a boy named Milo who is depressed and jaded and doesn't really take joy in anything. One day, a present shows up in his apartment. It's a cardboard tollbooth. Having nothing better to do, he decides to try it and ends up transported to a very strange world where numbers come out of mines and words can be eaten and demons live in the land of Ignorance.

This is definitely a book for children but it's wonderfully clever and I think one of the things I love most about it is how many layers it has. Like ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Juster loves to play with words and meaning, and it's just so witty. Every time I read it, I pick up more references, and I think that's the mark of a perfect work of children's literature-- something that becomes additive over the years and gains, rather than loses, its value.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Lisa.
991 reviews3,320 followers
February 23, 2017

That is the promise the boy Milo receives when he embarks on a hilarious adventure to rescue two princesses named Rhyme and Reason in a fantasy land beyond the Phantom Tollbooth, which he explores with a colourful bunch of characters. At the beginning of the story, Milo is a bored young man who does not care much for anything, and can't see any point in learning, discarding knowledge and understanding as quite useless.

During his journey into increasingly absurd adventures, however, he slowly but steadily sharpens his mind and wit, and starts thinking for himself, reflecting on different perspectives of reality. The biggest midget in the world happens to be the smallest giant in the world at the same time, and Milo would not have thought of either title for the man who appears absolutely average to him. In Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, he learns about the peculiarities of language and maths, and about the complexity of thought that is the basis for our means of communication.

In the end, when Milo has developed into a curious, mature boy who cherishes the adventure of learning, he receives a final lesson from all the crazy characters in the story:

“As the cheering continued, Rhyme leaned forward and touched Milo gently on the shoulder.
"They're cheering for you," she said with a smile.
"But I could never have done it," he objected, "without everyone else's help."
"That may be true," said Reason gravely, "but you had the courage to try; and what you can do is often simply a matter of what you *will* do."
"That's why," said Azaz, "there was one very important thing about your quest that we couldn't discuss until you returned.
"I remember," said Milo eagerly. "Tell me now."
"It was impossible," said the king, looking at the Mathemagician.
"Completely impossible," said the Mathemagician, looking at the king.
"Do you mean----" said the bug, who suddenly felt a bit faint.
"Yes, indeed," they repeated together; "but if we'd told you then, you might not have gone---and, as you've discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don't know they're impossible."
And for the remainder of the ride Milo didn't utter a sound.”

I read this book aloud to a Grade 7 a couple of years ago, and later, when they were in Grade 9, they told me it was still their favourite book, and one they would never have read through or understood without the joint effort of the class, as it is a story requiring a high level of language skills as well as general understanding of how to motivate learning and generate curiosity. Just like Milo in the story, some students might have given up in the middle if they had not shared and cheered each other on. It is not a simple mainstream, straightforward plot.

One of the completely impossible tasks in the book was described by the author in an afterword. He had had a conflict with his illustrator who refused to draw a required situation in the book. He claimed it to be impossible. The drawing was supposed to show the following: "Three demons, one tall and thin, the second short and fat, and the third exactly the same as the other two!"

My students and I gave ourselves the task to create the drawing, and there were as many different results as there were participants in the activity. But we solved it: "I'm possible", we wrote underneath.

It is one of my favourite memories of reading with students, and I highly recommend the book to grown-ups and children alike: if you are not satisfied, after all, wasted time will be refunded!
Profile Image for Calista.
4,074 reviews31.3k followers
October 17, 2018
This was a joy to read again. It's amazing how much of this had faded from my memory since childhood.

Norton takes all these common phrases and ideas and puts them together in a way that makes them feel absurd. He remakes them. This is a great book for kids starting out their reading journey. It sparks the imagination about words. I loved the dictionopolis. That was amazing. Words are important and this book encourages a curiosity about language and words and how things can be used. It is a fun little middle grade read that I'm so glad is still around.

I did listen to this in the car on my way to school and I can't remember many of the wonderful quotes from characters I would love to put down here and comment on. Rhyme and Reason are important in this book and without them we do see what a mess the world can be.

I also enjoy how the Phantom Tollbooth just appears and disappears without ever explaining who are what sent it. It just is. I found that refreshing. This should be school reading or on a reading list at school.

This also reminds me so much of Alice and Wonderland and the absurdity of the characters we meet in this strange land. Milo is simply trying to figure things out. It's the closest thing to it that I know of. It is a sharp witted little story and it's easy to see how it came out of the 60s era. I had fun reading it.

Profile Image for Katie.
7 reviews2 followers
October 7, 2007
I wasn't as impressed with this book as many of my friends. Perhaps that is because of my high expectations for the book or perhaps because of my preferences in writing style. So those who love this book can use one of those two reasons to blow off my review. However, the fact remains that I was not very interested from page to page, and if not for a commitment to a book group, I am afraid I would not have had any desire to finish it.

In style the book seems to be written for a particular age group ranging from 8-11, depending on the vocabulary and maturity of the reader. And, for the preteen sense of humor, the wordplay was appropriate and would be quite funny to the intended audience. However, the wordplay was really the only interesting aspect to the book, and I'm tempted to say as much for the joke books my niece reads to me.

The plot was simple and was secondary to both the wordplay and the multiple morals of the story. In fact, a new moral was introduced with every chapter (some chapters containing more than one moral), and each chapter was only a few short pages long. This was the main drawback to the book. Not to say that morals aren't important in a work, but too many morals are detracting. Introducing, then immediately leaving a moral behind decreases the likeliness that it will be remembered once the book is finished.

My other main problem with the book was the lack of description to help the reader enjoy the fantastical and quite creative world Juster introduces. Here one moment, and there the next, the reader is left wondering...How did Milo find his car again (he was lost only a moment ago)? Where are they? What do they see? This book, whose main moral is to teach a child to notice the world around them, simply forgot to take a look around. (The spectacular scene with Chroma and his orchestra being the exception.)

Overall, an interesting book, leaps and bounds above the other children's literature of Juster's contemporaries, but not my favorite.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews36 followers
October 9, 2019
The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
Milo is a boy bored by the world around him; every activity seems a waste of time. He arrives home from another boring day at school to find a mysterious package. ... The Phantom Tollbooth is a children's fantasy adventure novel written by Norton Juster with illustrations by Jules Feiffer, published in 1961 by Random House (USA).

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: سال 1999 میلادی
عنوان: ب‍اج‍ه‌ ع‍وارض‌ ش‍ه‍ر خ‍ی‍ال‍ی‌؛ نویسنده: ن‍رت‍ن‌ (نورتون) ج‍اس‍ت‍ر؛ مت‍رج‍م: ش‍ه‍لا طه‍م‍اس‍ب‍ی‌؛ ن‍ق‍اش‍ی‌: ج‍ول‍ز ف‍ی‍ف‍ر؛ ت‍ه‍ران‌: ن‍ش‍ر چ‍ش‍م‍ه‌، ک‍ت‍اب‌ ون‍وش‍ه‌، 1377؛ در 248 ص؛ شابک: 9646194699؛ موضوع: داستانهای نوجوانان از نویندگان ایالات متحده امریکا - سده 20 م

میلو، پسری بی حوصله و افسرده است که بسیاری از کارهایش، همانند مدرسه رفتن، انجام تکالیف و نظایر آن را بیهوده می‌پندارد. او یک روز هنگامی که وارد اتاقش شد بسته مرموزی دید که... ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Brian Yahn.
310 reviews599 followers
June 30, 2016
The Phantom Tollbooth is--without doubt--the funnest book I've ever read. Not only did I love this book as a kid, but I love it even more the older I get.

It has enough of a save-the-princess plot to hold your attention, a cast of Pixar-like zany characters, and it's set in a world so riddled with puns it's unbelievably fun.

From the way the tollbooth mysteriously arrives, to the way it takes Milo to a strange new world, to the quest he ends up on to save the princesses Rhyme and Reason, to how he ultimately returns home--this story never stops surprising, never stops intriguing, and definitely--not for a word--does it stop being fun.
Profile Image for David.
163 reviews530 followers
September 9, 2013
Reading "grown-up" literature is excavating the human soul, the adult soul: a mangled mess of contradictions and self-deceptions, screwy motives and the odd self-adherent logic of artistic creation. But Literature (capital ell) is a pyrrhic battle between message and evasion: one must avoid moralizing outright, must avoid overt allegory, but must never be too subtle, too veiled, lest you be resigned to snobby undergrabs and many rubbish bins. The Phantom Tollbooth is a strange beast: decidedly accessible to children, but remains lovable to adults. It's championing of the struggle against moral short-cuts, boredom, and mental waste is timeless, ageless, and remains prescient, even to me: a grown person 52 years after it's publication!

My grandmother has always said: "only boring people get bored" - I am guilty of sometimes serving this packaged wit cold when a friend laments "I'm bored!" but I think forcefully throwing this book at them would be a better remedy. What is signifed in my grandmother's aphorism is that interested people are interesting, and more importantly are never idle. My family (paternal side) is a hard-working, conservative, New Englander family: we don't watch much television, we read lots of books, we listen to NPR and read the Wall Street Journal, we somewhat self-indulgently talk about the cultural decline in literacy and how we are not a part of it. But the story of Milo is one which is both entertaining, lovable, but also cautionary. By no means is Milo a bad child, a dull idler, but rather he has not found passion yet. He is bored because his urban living, his deadening routine has stayed access to the bliss of potentiality.
The only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that's hardly worth the effort.

We are plagued, as a modern, urban society by the two-headed monster of routine. Routine comforts us, it gives us an escape into the dull and Terrible Trivium: the small tasks which comfort us and distract us from important, difficult work and choices. Our society is filled with spineless and indecisive people (the Gelatinous Giant) and those who feed us half-truths, who coddle us into a mire, into a trap (Monster of Insincerity): they are not villains, and these flaws do not define all people, but are characteristic in turn. Our weaknesses, our daemons, are our horrible defenses, our cozy citadels in the mountains of Ignorance. It is not the absence of bad habits (hours of dull television, bad reading or no reading) that marks an individual's decline, but rather the presence, the support, of our defenses. The demons of the mountains of Ignorance are impotent without our compliance, they feed on our weakness for what is easy. If we allow the glittering sovereigns of Rhyme and Reason to go fugitive in their empyrean prison, we lose our grip on true happiness, we become boring, we become easily bored.

Thankfully, there is nothing boring in The Phantom Tollbooth: its play with language is unrivaled certainly in children/young-adult literature, and rivals even the masters of play (Joyce, Nabokov, etc) in the grander schema. With a dual reverence for words and numbers, rhyme and reason, and a prevailing apotheosis of time, beyond the value of currency: something never to be wasted, Juster champions all forms of mental activity and cerebral play. I can imagine no better way to introduce a bored student, particularly one ahead of his class, to the ever-infinite vistas of imagination and invention than to hand him or her this book.

“It has been a long trip," said Milo, climbing onto the couch where the princesses sat; "but we would have been here much sooner if I hadn't made so many mistakes. I'm afraid it's all my fault."

"You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason quietly, "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.”
Profile Image for Gretchen Rubin.
Author 30 books98.7k followers
March 31, 2021
Towering classic of world literature. So wonderful. If you haven't read it since you were a child, re-read it.
Profile Image for Brett C.
805 reviews181 followers
August 6, 2021
It was fun to read this again! I read this in school when I was younger and I remember it being different and unique. Now as an adult the plot was still enjoyable. The puns and word play kept the story moving. Milo traveled from one place to the next with colorful characters and situations. I would recommend this timeless classic to anyone. Young and old can appreciate the uniqueness of it all. Thanks!
Profile Image for Rosh.
1,577 reviews1,844 followers
November 7, 2021
Life works in such mysterious ways. There was this book that used to keep popping up as "Recommended for you" in my Amazon app. But as it was being advocated as a children's book (which I already own a ton of!) and it was a bit expensive, I was dilly-dallying about whether to buy it, in spite of the great reviews it had.

Just a few weeks of indecision later, I was conducting my usual inspection of the local secondhand bookshop and its treasures, when suddenly, my eyes landed on this very book that Amazon was convincing me to buy! Obviously, the price was just peanuts. So I just threw my uncertainty away and bought it.

Today, I am so tremendously happy that I followed my heart. Though "The Phantom Tollbooth" is a children's fantasy adventure novel, it is so fabulously written that every adult who is a child at heart will be able to enjoy this.

Choc-a-bloc with fantastically ridiculous characters & places with the silliest possible and yet totally apt names, the book keeps you on your toes, your mind constantly active looking for the myriad metaphors and subtle life lessons being imparted in so jesting a manner. The book is thoroughly humorous and very intelligently written; you keep admiring the author's imagination and grasp of the language.

Although the book would be a great read-aloud to children aged 8 and above, the vocabulary is really extensive, plus a lot of the intelligent humour would be lost on this age group. So I'd say, great independent read for ages 11 plus (with no upper age limit. Every logophile will love this book!)

Of course, the biggest joke was on me. I assumed this to be the work of a new author as I had heard neither of the book nor of the author, Norton Juster, prior to the Amazon push notification. Turns out that the book was first published in 1961! It's sad how some classics simply pass by you without your being aware of their existence.

Join me on the Facebook group, " Readers Forever! ", for more reviews and other book-related discussions and fun.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,720 followers
December 1, 2019
I saw "The Phantom Tollbooth" on a list of beloved children's books, and realized I had somehow missed it when I was a kid. I listened to the audio version, narrated by actor Rainn Wilson, and thought it was delightful. The book is filled with clever wordplay and has good advice on the importance of not jumping to conclusions and watching your words (otherwise you may have to eat them!) Highly recommended.

Favorite Quotes
"Everybody is so terribly sensitive about the things they know best."

"The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between."

"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."

"You may not see it now ... but whatever we learn has a purpose and whatever we do affects everything and everyone else, if even in the tiniest way ... Whenever you laugh, gladness spreads like the ripples in the pond; and whenever you're sad, no one anywhere can be really happy. And it's much the same thing with knowledge, for whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer."

"So many things are possible just as long as you don't know they're impossible."
Profile Image for Peter.
50 reviews159 followers
December 22, 2009
When he left the Navy, Norton Juster began writing a non-fiction book about urban planning. As an outlet from the grueling work, though, he spent his free time concocting the imaginative scenes that later became The Phantom Tollbooth. One publisher’s advance later, he gave up on the scholarly work and finished The Phantom Tollbooth instead. And we’re all better off for it.

Part Alice in Wonderland, part secular Pilgrim’s Progress, The Phantom Tollbooth takes ten year-old Milo on a journey out of boredom and into a wild world of Watchdogs (dogs made from big watches), the Mathemagician (who rules over the city Digitopolis), King Azaz the Unabridged (who rules over Dictionopolis), and creatures like the Awful Dynne, who collects the noisy sounds of the world, and the Lethargarians, who sit around and do nothing all day.

It’s a bright adventure into the creative possibilities of the mind. In Dictionopolis and Digitopolis Milo discovers the value of words and numbers; on the Mountain of Ignorance he learns that knowledge can fight off inattention and indulgence; in the Doldrums, he avoids ennui by thinking; and through it all, he discovers that a little attention reveals wondrous details in everything around him. All told it’s an episodic allegory that feels like the whole wonder of grade school in a few hundred pages.

But the real pleasure of it is the whip-smart wordplay. We barely catch it as children, but Juster’s physical representations of intangible things—like the very short Officer Shrift, who arrests people without giving them a chance—introduce young readers to multiple layers of meaning. And as adults, there’s a laugh, a groan, or a tickled “huh!” in every paragraph.

The Phantom Tollbooth isn’t perfect, however. The opening chapters are electric with wit, but the mystery and momentum of the early pages fade into a string of sometimes cumbersomely connected scenes, as if Juster’s clever ideas were simply lined up in a row. And, not all puns are created equal. (Still, they're puns, and we have to love them).

But these are tiny complaints. Every child should read The Phantom Tollbooth; it’s a bit of a lesson book on how to live. In the interview at the end of the audiobook (read by David Hyde Pierce), Juster says that many of the demons in the story—like the terrible Trivium, who waylays us with inane tasks—reflect the challenges that he struggles with in his writing. And if we all do as well as Milo does, then we’ll surely live happier, fuller lives.

Do I recommend it? Yes. Read it at different times over the course of your life. You’ll notice different things.
Would I teach it? It would be fun. It’s young in spirit, and it might serve as fresh contrast to texts exploring allegory or the image of the road.
Lasting impressions: I first read The Phantom Tollbooth in the third grade, and though I only remembered excerpts from it before revisiting it recently, looking back at it now, I wonder if it was the most formative experience of my childhood.
Profile Image for Katie.
444 reviews278 followers
October 26, 2013
"In this box are all the words I know," he said. "Most of them you will never need, some you will use constantly, but with them you ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made with these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is use them well and in the right places."

"And remember also," added the Princess of Sweet Rhyme, "that many places you would like to see are just off the map and many things you want to know are just out of sight or a little beyond your reach. But someday you'll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow."

When I started to re-read The Phantom Tollbooth a few weeks ago, I was very excited, but I was also a little bit nervous. I have a special, uncritical reverence for this book, the sort that you can only really have for books you read when you were very young. I remember every picture in this book, and I remember it being filled with words and numbers and quite a lot of joy. It was lovely. I was afraid that a re-read as an adult would leave me feeling as if it wasn't as good as I remembered (or, maybe worse, that I've just grown up into a grumpy cynic).

But instead I was greeted with the pleasant surprise that The Phantom Tollbooth is still wonderful, and - without me realizing it, really - I think it had a huge determining course on who I wound up being as a person. I can't tell you how many times I came across sections that I probably didn't even entirely understand the first time through, but which are now really central and important to me. The second quote up there is pretty much a longer version of one of my absolute favorite quotes as an adult.

The Phantom Tollbooth is funny and sad and hopeful. There are loads of puns that should be kind of dumb, but instead are endearing and fun. It's full of reverence for words and their potential power, and its just imbued all the way through with a wonder for absolutely everything in the world. Go read it! It's the best.
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
557 reviews142 followers
March 29, 2023
An old favorite that hasn’t aged as well as I’d expected. The highlights were still pretty good, and my kid liked it and was excited to read it at night.

I read it out loud to my kid and found the story to be remarkably episodic and random. A lot of the language was clunky with a bad rhythm that made me tired. I also didn’t remember it being so much in the fairy tale genre, but it is, largely, using fairy tale logic of gifts and rules of 3 and things like that.

That said, it plays lots of fun word games (too tricky for my kid, but I liked them) and has some memorable classic monsters and magical happenings.
Profile Image for J. Aleksandr Wootton.
Author 8 books147 followers
May 26, 2021
A true child of Lewis Carroll's Alice novels, with perhaps a bit of Bunyan ancestry as well. (Writing for The New Yorker, critic Emily Maxwell observed: "As Pilgrim’s Progress is concerned with the awakening of the sluggardly spirit, The Phantom Tollbooth is concerned with the awakening of the lazy mind.")

Adventures which rescue a child from boredom are a dime a dozen, but driving a story with astonishing wordplay and logical charm is really hard: almost nobody other than Juster and Carroll has managed it. Here, Juster sets an absurdly world-weary boy the task of reuniting a pair of sundered squabbling kingdoms - one devoted to math, the other to language - by rescuing the exiled princesses Rhyme and Reason. (It's pretty easy to read the math/language divide as primary-school stand-ins for the still-ongoing false dichotomy of "Humanities vs. STEM" education).

I would give The Phantom Tollbooth five stars - it's worth that, easily - except for a minor point: I don't understand Juster's inclusion of a dreadful demon of pointless, monotonous tasks named the Terrible Trivium. Trivium is shorthand for three of the seven core subjects in classical education theory: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. And the whole book is devoted, not merely to illustrating these subjects' importance, but to awakening incurious minds to the wonders of the world by making good use of them. In a book where the author is so careful about his symbolism and humorous details, this monster's name feels jarringly out of place.

But that's just one episode in a fantastic story. The writing is great, the illustrations fun, the story engaging enough to pull you along and make you laugh, and the themes are a positive influence on the world: pretty much perfect.
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,072 followers
November 30, 2010
Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth made me happy. I loved the puns and playfulness. Even a dumb kid like me could appreciate the cool jokes. It's the language of words and numbers in a place that you can actually reach. Not "Learning is fun!" propaganda but "Hurry up, slow poke!" adventure stories in the vein of all the best ones. It's good for you.

I loved that Milo wanted to be away when he was home and away when he was home. No phantom tollbooth ever appeared to take me away (at least that wasn't in this book). I'd probably have gone on the adventure and then pined the rest of my days for another one... I was really good at missing the point of these kinds of stories. Have fun at home? Make friends at home? But I missed *those* friends!

In my lower self-esteem moments I'll still identify with The Terrible Trivium. I'm probably weird...

p.s. They made us watch the cartoon in elementary school. I started my infamous "1970s cartoon walk" in part because of this. Too bad it wasn't actually from the '70s. I suck.

P.s.s. And I never tagged this under "dogs" ("myonlyfriend", duh!). I really do suck. I'm sorry, Tock!
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,494 followers
September 17, 2016
Norton Juster lived around the block from me when I was a kid. We all steered clear of his house because our parents told us he was a miserable bastard.

That's not true; when I asked my mom about it last year she was horrified. She said he was a really nice man and she has no idea where I got that terrible but clear memory.

Anyway, I read this like fifty times when I was a kid and is there an Italo Calvino fan in the world who didn't start with this, the child's introduction to metafiction?
Profile Image for Malbadeen.
613 reviews7 followers
February 19, 2010
I was really looking forward to finding out what all the hub-bub about this book was, sadly at the end of the day I mostly just found it "too clever" and didactic. Think Alice in Wonderland marries The Littlest Prince.

This seems like the kind of book that snooty parents would want their kids to read on the way to fencing lessons while chomping on their organic granola. Always hoping that their ever blossoming renaissance child will wow a crowd of adults with their clever anecdotes and mature vocabulary.

Personally, I believe kids should be selfish, obnoxious intrusions in our lives constantly on the verge of burning down the house while eating highly processed foods and stepping over their Archie comics collection.

(All afore mention opinions can be discounted by the fact that my younger brother loved this book and grew without snooty parents or fencing lessons. Additionaly my own son is currently listening to at least mildly enjoying this book - but still it's soooooo dang OBTUSELY CLEVER - bleh).
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,633 followers
December 2, 2016
This is such a wonderful book about Milo and the Watchdog and his incredible adventures through both language and mathematics. Full of inventive language and puns, it makes me sad that Norton Juster didn't write more children's books. This on is abfab and a must!
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