phantom feature

On Our Bookshelves – The Phantom Tollbooth

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NOVEL: The Phantom Tollbooth

AUTHOR: Norton Juster

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 1961

REVIEW:

For some books, the text and the illustrations go together perfectly. The folks at Disney can try their best, but they just can’t improve upon the work of E.H. Shepard for Winnie-the-Pooh. Alice in Wonderland has been illustrated by everyone from Salvador Dali to Yayoi Kusama, and some of the artwork has been simply exquisite…but to my mind, nothing compares to Sir John Tenniel’s originals. The Phantom Tollbooth is much the same…I can’t imagine any illustrations which would suit Norton Juster’s classic better than Jules Feiffers.’ (And to the best of my knowledge, no one else has attempted it.)

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Having delighted parents, teachers, and children of all ages for over half a century now, The Phantom Tollbooth absolutely belongs in the company of Alice and Pooh. It’s that good. It’s got jokes and puns and wordplay, the aforementioned terrific illustrations, the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping to it…not recommended), Tock (a very literal watchdog), and the joy of learning, of words, of language, of math, of exploration. It turns a sunset into a symphony.

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It’s a book we need today, more than ever. Where are the Princesses of Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason now? Learning, moderation, compromise, and the courage necessary to do an impossible task (with a little help from our friends): that’s what we need to restore order and start to realize how much there is to see, hear, and touch: “walks to take, hills to climb, caterpillars to watch as they strolled through the garden.” Not to mention “books that could take you anywhere, and things to invent, and make, and build, and break, and all the puzzle and excitement…” You get the picture.

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Michael Chabon, Suzanne Collins, Philip Pullman, and Mo Willems are all fans, as was the late Maurice Sendak. They’re not wrong.

Buy a copy for yourself and one for your favorite child. You’ll be glad you did.

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 5 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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ALSO ON OUR BOOKSHELVES:

A Patchwork Planet, Anne Tyler

A Room With a View, E.M. Forster

An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon

Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan

Bunker Hill, Nathan Philbrick

Burmese Days, George Orwell

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Cockpit Confidential, Patrick Smith

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

Doctor Jazz, Hayden Carruth

Ed Emberly’s Drawing Book of Animals, Ed Emberly

Endangered Pleasures, Barbara Holland

Envious Casca, Georgette Heyer

Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

Good Poems, Garrison Keillor

Gowanus Waters, Steven Hirsch

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

Heads in Beds, Jacob Tomsky

Here is New York, E.B. White

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino

Lexicon, Max Barry

Longbourn, Jo Baker

Malice Aforethought, Frances Iles

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut

My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Notorious RBG, Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

One Summer: America 1927, Bill Bryson

Out of the Blackout, Robert Bernard

Parnassus on Wheels & The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley

Plotted: A Literary Atlas, Andrew DeGraff

Possession, A.S. Byatt

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle…and Other Modern Verse, Stephen Dunning, Edward Lueders, and Hugh Smith

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Rose Madder, Stephen King

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rivelli

Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Ed., Lewis Carroll & Martin Gardner (with original illustrations by John Tenniel)

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

The Dancer of Izu, Kawabata Yasunari

The House Without a Key, Earl Derr Biggers

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Oliver Sacks

The Martian, Andy Weir

The Modern Kids, Jona Frank

The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah

The Mother & Child Project, Hope Through Healing Hands (ed.)

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories, Saki

The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

The Women in Black, Madeleine St John

They Call Me Naughty Lola, David Rose

What If?, Randall Munroe

Up At the Villa, W. Somerset Maugham

84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com

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Lead-In Image Courtesy of Random House and Knopf for Young Readers