Do you know those long, lazy afternoons? When the sun shines warm and tantalizing through the window, teasing you with faint ideas of big projects and triumph; when you walk restlessly through the house, your gaze falling languidly on books, games, and homework; when the soft breathing of someone sleeping on the couch drifts through your irritated mind, reminding you that time is ticking? When you are disinterested in life in general—in those moments, that is when you need a Tollbooth.
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, is the story of how one of those languid afternoons turned into a life-changing adventure. Milo, a listless, lazy boy, comes wearily back from school to find a surprise package in his room. When he gloomily unwraps the package, he finds a tollbooth (a kiosk where you pay a toll). Not knowing what to do, he climbs into his little electric car and begins to play with the Tollbooth—and is sucked into it, to the Lands Beyond.
Once in the Lands Beyond, Milo discovers that the kingdoms there have been thrown into chaos because of the sons of the King of Wisdom. The two sons had had a fierce argument over whether words or numbers were more important. They brought their dilemma to the King’s two daughters, the Princesses of Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason. When Rhyme and Reason did not choose, the brothers threw them in prison, and confusion reigned.
Time is a recurring theme in The Phantom Tollbooth—Milo has lots of it, the brothers waste tons of it, and Milo’s friend the Watchdog tries to make people realize how precious it is. But if time is so precious, why do we waste so much of it, bickering or complaining or doing trivial tasks of no importance? How do we know if we are wasting it? Are you wasting your time when you make your bed? Or perhaps you only waste your time when you spend time doing things you attach no importance to . . .
The Phantom Tollbooth is a quirky, slightly random book with an odd but pleasant spirit. It remains a fresh and original. And if you find yourself bored on a pleasant afternoon, the only thing to do is curl up on a couch and begin the story.
Elementary fantasy, ages 8–12.
You can buy this book here.