Books, Boys and the Phantom Tollbooth

Phantom Tollbooth

Phantom Tollbooth

I am a bit jealous because tomorrow night, the Mother-Son book group that my wife and middle son are part of are going to be discussing The Phantom Tollbooth …. with author Norton Juster, who wrote this classic book and who works as an architect in a nearby town. One of the moms is a former journalist and she picked up the phone on a whim, called Juster up and asked if he might be willing to sit down with a bunch of boys to talk about his character, Milo, and the strange journey he goes on.

Juster said yes, and so, tomorrow night, they are meeting at a local restaurant. Pretty neat. I can’t make it because of other family events, but I sure wish I could be there, too.

I loved Tollbooth as a kid, and I use it in the classroom as read-aloud in some sections when talking about idioms and other figurative language techniques. The inventiveness of the language as it weaves around the story remains interesting, I think.  I am always surprised that very few kids even know of the book anymore, and I hope my reading of it in class sparks some interest. I know the book used to be a regular part of a fourth-grade curriculum, but not anymore.

Remember the movie version created by Chuck Jones? It used to be available at YouTube, but not anymore. It may have run into copyright problems. Someone did post it on Vimeo, so you can find it there, if you want.

A sample from the script:

Officer Short Shrift: Now then, would you like a short sentence or a long sentence?
Milo: Well, I suppose a short one, if I have a choice.
Officer Short Shrift: How about “I am”? It’s the shortest sentence I know.
[Writes “I AM” on his pad and hands it to Milo]
Milo: It’s very kind of you to give me… such a short sentence.
Officer Short Shrift: And when do you think you can go to prison and start serving it?
Milo: Serving it? I guess I can’t, not until I get back from Dictionopolis and the Castle in the Air.
Officer Short Shrift: The what in the what?
Milo: Why, the Castle in the Air.
Officer Short Shrift: Boys are guilty of everything! Guilty, guilty, guilty…

Peace (in the tollbooth),

  1. I love that idea of a mother-son book club. I teach sixth grade and a mother came to me in September and was extremely enthusiastic about a similar club in which her son had participated over the summer. I think what those clubs prove is that reading good books can have a real social element to it. For those teachers who can plow through ten novels in a school yer, I have to wonder: when do their students get time to actually talk about the books?

    Lastly, a sad confession: I never read The Phantom Tollbooth! But I’ll put it on my list!

    Thanks for the great post; I’ll need to add yuou to my blog roll.

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