1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up discussion

The Phantom Tollbooth
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Monthly Book Club > May 2015: The Phantom Tollbooth

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message 1: by Tiffany, Former moderator, current lurker (new) - added it

Tiffany | 213 comments Mod
Hello again everyone!

Please (please please please!) consider joining in for our discussion of our May chapter book, The Phantom Tollbooth. This was one of my favorite books as a youngster, so I'm looking forward to re-reading it for our group read.

Since it's a chapter book, I'd like to set a reading/discussion schedule. I don't think there are any spoilers in the book, but I always think it's kind of nice when everyone's at sort of the same place in the book together.

That said, my proposed reading/discussion schedule is:
May 1-9: read/discuss chapters 1-5
May 10-16: chapters 6-10
May 17-23: chapters 11-15
May 24-31: chapters 16-20

One thing I always liked about this book is how clever it is: it's funny for young kids, but even older kids and adults can find funny things and clever/witty plays on words that make you laugh.


Stephanie (ontariogal) | 7 comments I love this book! Not sure if I have time to re-read, but I have read it several times so may be able to discuss anyway. When I taught grade 4 students we studied this book.


message 3: by Tiffany, Former moderator, current lurker (new) - added it

Tiffany | 213 comments Mod
Definitely join in even if you don't re-read it with us! I'd also be curious to hear as we go how you approached it with your students and the thoughts they had about the book.


message 4: by Tiffany, Former moderator, current lurker (new) - added it

Tiffany | 213 comments Mod
Hello again!

Out of curiosity, is anyone reading this book for the first time? If so, let us know what you think!

And now, for the first set of discussion questions (although by no means should you think of these questions as the only thing you can talk about -- I'm just throwing out ideas): my copy has an "Appreciation" by Maurice Sendak, and I think it's SO perfect that Maurice Sendak, author of probably one of the best-known kids books, Where the Wild Things Are, would write the foreword.

One of the things he says is that The Phantom Tollbooth, written in 1961, "is...prophetic and scarily pertinent to late-nineties urban living. The book treats, in fantastical terms, the dread problems of excessive specialization, lack of communication, conformity...and all the alarming ills of our time" (Sendak was writing in 1996). So I guess in addition to the amusing wordplay (I love the section about the Doldrums), we might also be aware of how Juster pre-mirrors "the dumbing down of America," as Sendak says. What do you think? Are you seeing parallels between this 1961 fantasy story and life in the 1990s (and even 2010s)?

Another thing Sendak's Appreciation made me think of is how the story and pictures of both Where the Wild Things Are and The Phantom Tollbooth go hand-in-hand. Both sets are so wonderful, and yet you almost can't imagine either story without its companion illustrations. So which do you like more in Tollbooth: the story or the pictures? Or is it too hard to decide?


Michelle Johnson (mascaratomidnight) | 3 comments First time, here. I just started today so I'm a little behind. But I can tell we are going to love it. VERY CUTE.

So far we are loving the illustrations. Though only my seven year old was looking at them with me.


message 6: by Tiffany, Former moderator, current lurker (new) - added it

Tiffany | 213 comments Mod
Michelle wrote: "First time, here. I just started today so I'm a little behind. But I can tell we are going to love it. VERY CUTE.

So far we are loving the illustrations. Though only my seven year old was looki..."


Michelle, are you reading it with more than one child? What are their ages?


message 7: by Tiffany, Former moderator, current lurker (new) - added it

Tiffany | 213 comments Mod
One "prophetic and scarily pertinent" section I found (and it's in NO way specific to the '90s or 2010s) was the story of Rhyme and Reason, the two princesses who were banished when they wouldn't settle an argument in favor of either prince (chapter 6). It reminded me of arguments between politicians, who can't seem to listen to logic if it comes from the opponent (the other party, the other candidate, etc.). The Which, who's telling the story, says that both princes "were more interested in their own advantage than in the truth" -- sounds to me like politicians and special interests.


message 8: by Tiffany, Former moderator, current lurker (new) - added it

Tiffany | 213 comments Mod
As we know, this book is FULL of wordplay.

A lot of Norton Juster's wordplay is making cliches literal: a "light meal" is plates full of "brilliant-colored light"; a "square meal" is a platter of "steaming squares of all sizes and colors" -- but be careful, those corners will get stuck in your throat! (both are in chapter 7).

Another type of wordplay is with the illustrations. For example (I don't know if this was intended, or if I made it up on my own), King Azaz the Unabridged is ... umm... well, fat, just like the unabridged version of a book is the unedited, i.e. fat, version of the book. (King Azaz and a picture of him are in the beginning of chapter 7, pages 82 & 83 in my copy). Intentional play on words?

So, my question for you is what plays on words have stood out to you? What's been your favorite?


Stephanie (ontariogal) | 7 comments My favourite was always the way they "jumped" to Conclusions (the island) when they jumped to conclusions. The other ones that stuck with me were the spelling bee, the watch dog, being in the doldrums, I also liked the regular man who is the tallest short man, the shortest tall man, etc. There were loads more, and these were great items for discussion when I taught this book. Just to add - - I do think the "unabridged" was likely intentional. The book was so well thought out with wordplay that it must have been. At the very least, it would have been intentional on the part of the illustrator. But I don't think he would have had the name without some meaning behind it.


message 10: by Tiffany, Former moderator, current lurker (new) - added it

Tiffany | 213 comments Mod
Stephanie wrote: "But I don't think he would have had the name without some meaning behind it."

And that's kind of part of the fun, isn't it? Figuring out why a character was named in such a way (perhaps before we find out what his or her characteristics are), or maybe trying to jump ahead (to conclusions?) to guess what wordplay name a character has, based on the characteristics we're learning about them.


message 11: by Tiffany, Former moderator, current lurker (new) - added it

Tiffany | 213 comments Mod
In addition to some of the other wordplay I've mentioned that I like, I also like the Everpresent Wordsnatcher, from the land of Context, in the chapter "A Very Dirty Bird."

As I've been reading this, I've been thinking about reading it aloud to children (which I think some of you are doing with your own kids, or perhaps with your students). I volunteer with first-graders, so I've been thinking about them as I read; I think they'd get a lot of the funny stuff in the book, so even though it's a longer book, and I think it tends to be read at an older age (it's listed here as 8+), I think they'd enjoy it. Then I was thinking that there are some plays on words that you can get, even by hearing them, rather than having to see them in type. But the Everpresent Wordsnatcher, I'm not sure about. I mean, it's funny, but I'm not sure first-graders would get all those twists, like "We're looking for a place to spend the night" - "It's not yours to spend," and "That doesn't make sense" - "Dollars or cents, it's still not yours to spend."

For those of you who are or who have read this with kids, what's the youngest you've read with that still seemed to get it (And like Sesame Street, I think there's a fair amount of stuff in here that you don't fully get until you're older)?


message 12: by Tiffany, Former moderator, current lurker (new) - added it

Tiffany | 213 comments Mod
As we wrap up our month with The Phantom Tollbooth, I wanted to share with you all the movie from 1970. It's a fun way to spend 90 minutes -- www.youtube.com/watch?v=Llg5VODW6n4

You can also read about the movie at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Phan... . Apparently, Norman Juster didn't like the movie version: "Juster had no input into the adaptation, and has expressed his hatred for the film in an interview: 'It was a film I never liked. I don't think they did a good job on it.'"


Cataluna6 | 128 comments I'm a little late with my comments - I'd never read this before but I had a lot of fun listening to the audio version of this (narrated by David Hyde Pearce).
I enjoyed the word play, I'm also looking forward to rereading this when the physical copy arrives, I think the illustrations will offer more again. There was an interview with the author at the end of the audio and he mentioned that he received letters from the readers throughout their lives letting him know that they got different things/ interpreted the story differently each time they read it which I think is fascinating. To me this book is the definition of timeless as I can imagine that I could quite happily reread this and still find enjoyment and a different interpretation each time I read it.


message 14: by Tiffany, Former moderator, current lurker (new) - added it

Tiffany | 213 comments Mod
Cataluna6 wrote: "I'm a little late with my comments - I'd never read this before but I had a lot of fun listening to the audio version of this (narrated by David Hyde Pearce). ..."

Ooh, that sounds like it would be fun! I'll have to look for that version.


Cataluna6 | 128 comments Tiffany wrote: "Cataluna6 wrote: "I'm a little late with my comments - I'd never read this before but I had a lot of fun listening to the audio version of this (narrated by David Hyde Pearce). ..."

Ooh, that soun..."


It was, great narration always helps :)


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