Recently we started a parent/child book club based on the format in Deconstructing Penguins mentioned in the previous post. Towards the end of Deconstructing Penguins, the Lawrence’s give a list of a few great books to start your book club with. The first one on the list was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster.
This lively humorous children’s book was published in 1961. Now considering I was born in the late 60’s I was amazed that I had never before seen this book, let alone heard of it – so let me start out by saying that this is an amazing piece of children’s literature full of clever puns and idioms that make this children’s book a very entertaining allegory full of witty appeal. Although it can be read at a fourth grade reading level:
Critics have acknowledged that the book is advanced for most children, who would not understand all the wordplay or the framing metaphor of how to achieve wisdom. Writers like the reviewer in The New York Times have focused on the children and adults able to appreciate it; for them, it has “something wonderful for anybody old enough to relish the allegorical wisdom of Alice in Wonderland and the pointed whimsy of The Wizard of Oz”. It is now often acknowledged as a classic of children’s literature. – Wikipedia
That being said, all the more reason to explore this book as a family, or even better in a parent/child book club. We had a lot of fun digging deeper together in this book and I have to say, most kids in the group understood most of the underlying wit with just a few probing questions. The little “Ah-ha!” moments of understanding were going off constantly in the circle of kids (and adults too!). Even if you don’t dig deeper with this book, I found that most kids had it read in just a couple of days – and some (including my own) choosing to read it again.
If the title of this book is new to you, consider adding it to your children’s book list. The Phantom Tollbooth is a highly engaging, lively, funny, witty, and thought-provoking read.