Monday, September 16, 2013

Classic Review: The Phantom Tollbooth

Premise: Milo is transported to a land where the king of Dictionopolis loves words and the king of Digitopia loves numbers. The only solution to this problem is for Milo and his two friends to rescue the princesses, Rhyme and Reason, from imprisonment.

Title: The Phantom Tollbooth
Author: Norton Juster
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Content Appropriate For: Grades 3-8

Three adjectives that describe this book: complex, amusing, fanciful

So... I may take some heat for this review. The Phantom Tollbooth is well-loved by many a folk, but I just couldn't get into it. I mean - YES, it's quirky and fun. And YES, the constant word play is nerd-core goodness. And YES, there are some thoughtful take-aways about appreciating life and the world all around you. BUT...

All that word play just got to be so doggone tiring. Every single character. And every single setting. And every single event was designed for quirky, fun times and messages for life. By the time we got to the The Senses Taker - who both takes a census and takes away your senses - I was completely exhausted. The whole thing just seemed too obvious for me.

Then there's the issue of readability. The Phantom Tollbooth is a classic novel for children. As a fifth grade teacher who talks with her students about books every day, I usually have no problem putting myself in their shoes while reading. This time, though, I found that to be very challenging. Most of my students really struggle with common idioms and proverbs. The humor and characterization in The Phantom Tollbooth are really driven by idioms and proverbs, including those that aren't so common. While reading I kept wondering, "Would a student be engaged in the novel if he missed all the word play humor?" I'm not sure. Maybe the solution is to get this classic into the hands of some of my students.

Until then...
3 stars

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