The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth

Monday, February 6, 2012


The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster
★★★★★

I grew up adoring this book. A bored young boy finds a tollbooth in his bedroom when he gets home from school. He then proceeds to travel to a faraway land and go on adventures that teach him lessons and challenge him to grow and mature. It’s a parable about the value of imagination and exploring the world around you. It’s also wonderfully funny and clever.

It taught me to appreciate words and the myriad of meanings that they can have, but also not to use them just to impress people. It taught me the value of a world with that holds math, science, English and art in equal measures. There is no balance without all of those things. The book provided constant reminders about the value of friendship and the importance of surrounding yourself with people who will improve you and not drag you down. It showed me that the true villains in life are self-doubt, idleness and things like that, not the monsters we normally picture. And on top of all of that, the book, so full of life lessons, is accessible to 10-year-olds. Somehow Juster slyly slide those things into the midst of a great story.


Reading my beautiful new Annotated edition was such a treat. Although I’d read and reread the book over the years, I knew very little about the story behind it. Juster was an architect, not an author, but he had a view of where children were headed and it wasn’t pretty. His message, encouraging kids to journey outside the walls of their home, both physically and mentally, is more important than ever in the age of video games and You Tube.

Leonard S. Marcus (a children’s literature scholar) compiled the annotated edition and it’s filled with fascinating trivia and behind-the-scenes tidbits. Jules Feiffer's illustrations, which are such an integral part of the story, are explained in detail, as is the books evolution. I particularly loved seeing all of the lists of possible characters and obstacles that Juster kept.

If you’ve never read the book, start with a regular copy, but if you’re already a devoted fan, the annotated copy is a delight!

"My goodness," thought Milo, "everybody is so terribly sensitive about the things they know best."

"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 than you do by being right for the wrong reasons."

Images from The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth

11 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness this sounds precious. I've always heard of it, but I'm not sure why I've never gotten my hands on it. When I get through my pile of printed reads, I'll get it from the library!

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  2. The best book for Word Play ever!!!

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  3. Sandy - You should definitely read it. I'm not sure what my response would be if I was reading it for the first time as an adult, but I still loved it when I re-read it as one.

    BookQuoter - Yes! I love it.

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  4. I've always heard about this book, but never read it... I'm heading to the Library with the kids tonight to track down a copy!

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  5. This is such a good book. I tried reading it with my son but he wasn't quite ready for it yet. In a few years, we'll try again.

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  6. Two Bibliomaniacs - I hope you find one!

    Jenners - I can't remember how old I was the first time I read it, maybe 8?

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  7. I keep seeing this at the bookshop and being sorely tempted by it. I loved The Phantom Tollbooth as a kid (and still now of course!), and I love finding out background information about books I love, especially kids' books.

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  8. Ok, so you tempted me and I ordered a copy from Amazon. I love children's books and have been going through the Betsy-Tacy series which were my favorites as a child. I had forgotten how much they meant to me at the time (I'm 68, so some 60 years ago). Anyway, I so enjoy hearing about new to me books. I only hope I have enough time left to read them all.

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  9. 8 of my kids read this book..8 kids LOVED this book!

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  10. Jenny - The Huz surprised me with a copy for Christmas. I was so excited!

    annieb - I can't wait to hear what you think! You'll have to let me know when you read it. I'm still discovering books from every genre that I can't believe I've just found. We're never too old to discover a new favorite!

    Bybee - Indeed!

    momto8 - That's wonderful! My sister isn't a big reader, but she loved the book when we were young too. I can't imagine anyone hating it.

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