We asked JSTOR Daily readers what books they remembered most from childhood. Here is one of them, plus related content you won’t find anywhere else.

The Phantom Tollbooth (written by academic and architect Norton Juster, with whimsical illustrations by Jules Feiffer—they allegedly met while taking out the trash one day)  is one of those beloved childhood books that looms large in the imagination of anyone who has read it. As you’ll no doubt recall, its hero is “a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself—not just sometimes, but always.” Milo is afflicted by an ennui beyond his years, musing that everything seems like a waste of time, and that there’s nothing he ever feels like doing.

Until, that is, a tollbooth appears in Milo’s room, and he zooms through it to a strange land where words and numbers have become bitterly divided. Only Milo can reunite the kingdom, a quest that involves many brain-tickling experiences in which turns of speech become concrete: jumping to Conclusions (an island); lolling in the Doldrums; swimming in the Sea of Knowledge; literally eating one’s words. It’s like Amelia Bedelia meets The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. As an article written by three middle school teachers put it, “A children’s classic compared most frequently with Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth has been praised for the lessons it teaches—’Words are only confusing when you use a lot to say a little’ and ‘just because you have a choice doesn’t mean any of them has to be right’ —and for its literary quality, a skillful blend of allegory and whimsy.”

And yet, the teachers note, “in spite of its teachable and timely attractions, The Phantom Tollbooth remains undiscovered in many classrooms.” They follow up with some great teaching resources for classroom teachers and writing workshop instructors alike, and activities that parents might want to try with their own kids.

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Language Arts, Vol. 56, No. 2 (February 1979), pp. 171-174
National Council of Teachers of English