The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I distinctly remember I read this book for the first time in fifth grade not because of how much I loved the story but because of how angry my sixth grade teacher was that several of my classmates and I had already read the book. Apparently, this book was the staple of middle school language arts class, and she was so very upset that the elementary school was stealing her curriculum.

A couple of years ago, when I came across a used copy of Juster’s book at a garage sale, I immediately snapped up a copy because of the fond memories I did have of the novel. (At least, those not clouded by my teacher’s anger.)

In this classic children’s book, ten-year-old Milo is bored by everything in his life. When he’s at school, he wishes to be home; when he’s home, he wishes to be at school. On one particular afternoon a very bored Milo arrives home to find a mysterious package in his room. The package is of an irregular shape, but Milo unwraps the package and assembles the tollbooth convinced he is in for another boring afternoon. Even so, Milo climbs into his mechanical car and deposits the coin accompanying the package as he drives past the tollbooth.

Transported to the lands of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, with a side trip to the land of the Doldrums, Milo is completely enchanted with this new land. As he travels through this magical kingdom, he is joined by the watchdog, Tock, who ticks and the Humbug in his voyage. Along the way, Milo learns the kingdom of Wisdom is in decline thanks to the feud between brothers King Azaz of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis. Convinced words are better than numbers and visa versa, the brothers banish their sisters, Rhyme and Reason, to the Castle in the Air when the girls decided that numbers and words were of equal importance. Milo is charged with the task of rescuing the princesses and restoring order to the kingdom.

I spent much of last week ill and was very glad to have this childhood favorite at school with me. It’s simplicity made it easy to read and it’s story brought a big smile to my face. I forgot how clever this little book is. For example, the Which not Witch, the Spelling Bee (literally), and Azaz’s pack of advisors (Duke of Definition, Minister of Meaning, Earl of Essence, Count of Connotation, and Undersecretary of Understanding) who all teach Milo about the words he’s missing out on by finding school and life boring. And did you know that it’s more important to know whether it will rain rather than the weather?

The illustrations by Jules Feiffer add another wonderful dimension to the story. As black and white pen drawings the illustrations look very simple, but some of them are actually quite complex and really help bring the story to life.

This book is just so clever and cute and funny. I am so glad I brought the book with me to school and took the time to reread it. It was exactly what the doctor ordered.

(Note: While very similar, the book cover shown is not the one that matches my edition of the book. There is no introduction in my copy.)

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth. New York: Scholastic, 1961. Print. 256 pgs. ISBN: 0590409174. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © Knopf. Retrieved: March 19, 2011.


  1. I found my copy used, too! Though I never read the book as a kid. I would have loved it, though, and am glad I finally did read it. I found it delightful.


  2. Oh feel better! I have fond memories of watching the movie many many times but I don’t remember much about the book. I think I”ll need to find a copy of this and reread it! Sounds like a wonderful one for an adult to revisit. Sounds like I’ll appreciate it maybe more…


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