Ideas for Learners Promoting Literacy, Inquiry, and Meaningful Learning Experiences
The Phantom Tollbooth

Book Summary

Milo is not very interested in any of the books, games, or puzzles in his room, or the people in his life.  When a mysterious tollbooth appears in his room, Milo enters a fantasy world and is called upon to solve a problem--to bring the princesses named Rhyme and Reason back in order to fight the demons of Ignorance.  This book relies heavily on word play, and its central message is to encourage readers to focus on things that are most meaningful in life. 

The Phantom Tollbooth book cover
The Phantom Tollbooth

Book Review

This is a highly unique book.  It does not lean on characterization or action, and that will alienate some readers.  Many gifted students who enjoy word play will see this book as an unusually clever treasure, but more students would benefit from guided study of this book, in order to appreciate the countless plays on words.  The Senses Taker, for example, asks loads of personal questions and then admits "I'll steal your sense of purpose, take your sense of duty, destroy your sense of proportion . . ."  Milo and his companions also take an unfortunate detour to the island of Conclusions and are forced to take a long swim back to the main road through the Sea of Knowledge, realizing then that jumping to conclusions ultimately wastes your time.

This book is family-friendly throughout, but its complexity makes it inaccessible to most younger readers.  There are references to demons in the land of Ignorance that chase Milo, but they include the "demon of insincerity" and the Terrible Trivium, who is "the demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, the ogre of wasted effort, and the monster of habit," as opposed to any fearsome Hollywood creatures.

left 3D quotation mark

If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you'll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult.  You just won't have the time. For there's always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing."
p. 213

Topics and Themes for this book:

  • Word Play
  • Quests
  • Adventure/Mystery
  • Life's Purpose

Discussion Questions for this book:

The best discussion questions, of course, are generated by and contemplated by readers. These questions are designed to avoid major spoilers about the book, and to provide a starting point for teachers, parents, and student reading groups.

**Questions coming soon**

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