Dear Phantom Tollbooth,
Happy Birthday one day late! Many happy returns to yourself, and to Mr. Juster! I remember the first time my mother handed you to me. I was probably eight or so, and she was very enthusiastic for you had been one of her favorite books when she was my age. I opened to your first page, read your first chapter, and…I didn’t get it. I was a rather abstract child, but your genius was still rather beyond my brain power at the time. It took a few years, but the next time I peaked between your pages I was instantly enthralled. From the moment Milo rode through the booth there was no looking back for me. Thank you for your silly yet very intelligent puns. Thank you for opening my eyes to seeing things like time and the concrete aspects of language in a whole new, more adventurous light. But mostly, thank you for taking me away to the Lands Beyond on so many afternoons when, like Milo, I was bored with school work or television or toys. I count you among the precious books that fostered my love of reading and my active imagination, and I wouldn’t have become the student or writer or woman I am today without you and your peers.
In honor of your birthday, I’m going to review some of my favorite children’s books, both from my childhood and some of my more recent discoveries, on my blog today. I would have made cupcakes, but you have no mouth. Mouth or no, you, Phantom Tollbooth, will still retain the place of honor. After all, it’s not everyday that a book has their golden birthday! I hope that on this day you understand how much you are still loved and adored, by me, by your plethora of adult fans, and by the new, young ones who discover you each day.
With Deep Gratitude,
Amanda’s Mini-Reviews: Children’s Books From Then and Now.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: Milo is a disenfranchised young man who is bored with life when one day receives a mysterious package: a play-sized tollbooth. He drives his toy car through the booth and finds himself transported to the Lands Beyond, where he and his trusty friend Tock the Watchdog, have all sorts of adventures, such as conducting a sunrise and rescuing peculiar princesses. Parents will appreciate the wit, and kids will be enthralled with the fanciful characters. Some younger elementary kids might be a bit confused, as I was, but by fourth grade or so this book makes for delightful reading. Verdict: Magical (Click here for a wonderful article about Phantom tollbooth by Norton Juster himself.)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, by Roald Dahl: I loved this book so much as a kid that I used to I hide it under my bed and read it at night by flash light. I discovered its sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, a year or so after I read it’s predecessor and loved it just as much. What child could help but root for the poor kid who never got any candy? I couldn’t, and my bet is that you’re mini person won’t be able to either. Verdict: Exuberant
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis: This is The Lord of the Rings light, with enough mythology and adventure to satisfy even the nerdiest kids cravings, but with a bit more of a twinkle in its eye. Four siblings discover a magical land in the back of an old wardrobe, which has been held captive for a hundred years by an evil witch who has made it always winter and never Christmas. What’s more, the siblings discover that they are the only ones who can free the land from its torment! This book and it’s six companions exude adventure of the most addictive kind. Verdict: The Grandest of Adventures
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert O’Brien: I’ve always loved a good adventure, but what I loved most about this adventure was that it could have taken place in my own backyard. Maybe there were colonies of highly advanced critters running around my backyard too! On top of that, I came to care deeply about what happened to Mrs. Frisby, her son Timothy, and all those clever rats. This is a loveable, unique story that also brings up questions of responsibility with animals. Verdict: Loveable
From the Mixed-U Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg: Sometimes you just want to read something fun, and this book is definitely that! Claudia and her brother Jamie feel underappreciated, so they run away from home…and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC! They sleep in priceless historic furniture by night, and by day they peruse the exhibits, especially a statue of a mysterious angel that may or may not be a Michelangelo. With the help of an eccentric widow (Mrs. Frankweiler), they kids determine to learn the angel’s secret. Verdict: Excellent
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: Mole is tired of his dark little hole in the ground, and so he blows off his spring cleaning to go for a walk. While walking discovers the most glorious river in the throes of Spring where he meets the River Rat, Mr. Toad, and the Badger, and together they have a host of adventures on the banks of their beloved river. This book embodies the very essence of childhood. Verdict:Beautiful
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: I believe one of the reasons poetry is a decreasing art form in America is because we see it as a serious business, too abstract or intellectual for children, and by the time those kids have grown and could appreciate it, they’re not interested anymore. But Silverstein and a handful of others are changing that with their sometimes silly, sometimes inane, sometimes shockingly deep poetry for children. I’ve loved everything about Shel since I was five, and my bets are you will love him too. Verdict: Delightful
Horns and Wrinkles, by Joseph Helgerson: I discovered this gem while looking up books that include regional folklore for a college class. The northern Mississippi River is, apparently, overwrought with magic, particularly trolls, both river and rock, and blue-wing fairies. Claire doesn’t particularly believe it all, but then her cousin Duke falls in the river and comes home with a horn where his nose should be, and they are plunged into the world of river magic. This is a fun and inventive story, and I’m shocked it hasn’t picked up a wider reading audience. Verdict: Too Good to Stay Undiscovered
The Last Dragon by Silvana De Mari: The world is falling apart, rainy and dark, it is slowly spitting out its inhabitants. Yorsh is a young elf who awakes one morning to find himself orphaned- the last elf on earth. But he soon discovers that he is part of a powerful prophecy and he must travel to find the last dragon, and thus save the world from total destruction. Despite it’s dire sound, this book, original published in Italian, is surprisingly funny, lighthearted, and endearing, a statement from the author about fantasy writers who take themselves too seriously. Verdict: Whimsical
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle: I read this book as a child, but I didn’t truly appreciate it until college. A cosmic trip to lands strange, wonderful and threatening, Meg Murray , her little brother, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin must rescue Meg’s father from unknown peril with the help of Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit, three delightful interplanetary beings. The story is delightful, but it’s the message that stuck with me: you may have brains or endearing quirks, but it is your love that sets you apart. Verdict: Inspiring
Gossamer by Lois Lowry: Where do dreams come from? Littlest One and her people are dream-givers. At night they sneak into houses and collect memories which they use to give pleasant dreams, but they must be careful of the sinisteeds, dream-givers who delved too deeply and now give only nightmares. As the sinisteeds converge of the house of Littlest One’s charges, will she have the strength to hold them back? Lowry tells this story with both gentleness and strength, making Gossamer easy to read and to love. Verdict: Delightful
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke: The first of Funke’s Inkworld trilogy, this is a surprisingly dark and heavy book not to be trifled with. Mortimer is a bookbinder with a shocking ability- he can read books aloud and whatever he reads will come to life. This has shocking consequences for his daughter, Meggie, and his wife Resa, as well as all of Italy, for the characters he reads out are not pleasant folk, but rather harsh and cruel, and they will stop at nothing to dominate no matter what world they are in. Wildly imaginative, this fantasy speaks to a very real need to be cautious of what we create. Verdict: Fascinating But Dark
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo: Another college find, I discovered DiCamillo in my children’s literature class. I love all of her works, but the gentle, loving way she treated this tender tale about an incorrigible, fearless mouse, a peasant who has never truly been loved, a dungeon rat who just wants to bask in the light, and some rather hot soup makes this my favorite of all her works. Her undeniable message that everyone is worthy of love and respect has led me to love and respect this author. Verdict: Thoughtful and Loveable
A Few Of My Other Favorites:
The 21 Balloons by William Du Bois, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond, The Blue Umbrella by Mike Mason, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, Dusty Mole, Private Eye Series by Barbara Davoll, The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne, The Land of Elyon Series by Patrick Carman, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Marry Poppins by P.L Travers, Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes, Otto and The Flying Twins by Charlotte Haptie, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson, Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan, Seven Kisses in a Row by Patricia MacLachlan, Something Big Has Been Here by Jack Prelutsky…I could go on, but I’ll spare you.
PS: I found this in the back of my copy of Sarah, Plain and Tall (which I got at a library book sale a few years back) last night when I got it out to photograph it. I laughed. Kids amuse me to no end!