Bibliographic Information: Juster, Norton. (1964). The Phantom Tollbooth. New York: Random House.
Plot Description: Bored and disinterested 10 year old Milo, is never satisfied with anything. He always longs to be somewhere else and when he gets there he wonders why he bothered going. One day he discovers a package containing a toy tollbooth and map to the Lands Beyond. He sets it up and drives his little toy car through the booth and into a fantastical adventure. He meets an array of interesting and unusual characters, such as Tock the watch dog, who is both figuratively and literally a watch dog, since he keeps watch to guard against time wasting and also has a giant clock in him. Along his journey Milo visits several lands, learning something new in each one, until he finally figures out how to enjoy the small pleasures of life.
Quantitative Reading Level: Lexile Measure: 1000L Interest Level: Middle Grades ATOS Book Level: 6.7
Qualitative Reading Analysis: The book features black and white drawings and is told by a third person narrator, who is credible, but only knows Milo’s thoughts. Figurative language is used throughout the novel. Many phrases in the story have both literal and figurative meaning. Some students may have trouble discerning the often multiple meanings behind names and ideas. The author uses satire and humor to convey meaning. Higher level vocabulary is used throughout the story. Students will likely expand their vocabulary reading this novel and can use context to help understand new words. There is most certainly a distance between the events of the text and the experiences of the reader and events will be unfamiliar to readers. However, readers may connect to Milo and his boredom, as everyone has experienced it at some point, though hopefully not as severely as Milo. Knowledge specific to the fantastical lands in the story are often explained to help readers understand how things work in the Lands Beyond, though the explanations may not always be clear.
Content Area: Reading, Literature, Mathematics
Content Area Standard:
English Language Arts Standards for Reading: Literature: Craft and Structure: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
English Language Arts Standards for Language: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 6 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
English Language Arts Standards for Language: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.4.a Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
Curriculum Suggestions: Have students identify figurative language in the text and determine the often dual meanings (figurative and literal) using contextual clues. As they read, ask students to record character traits of Milo, Humbug and Tock throughout the story. Have students respond to the following quote about Milo: “He regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all” (p. 2). Do you feel the same way? Why or why not? Why do you think Milo felt that way? How could you show Milo the importance of seeking knowledge?
Supporting Digital Content:
Awards: George C. Stone Centre for Children’s Books Award
Character names/descriptions: Milo, a ten year old boy who is in the doldrums. He is always bored and takes little interest in his surroundings.
Personal Thoughts: I enjoyed this book as a child and think it is still relevant today. Even with all the technology and countless ways to amuse oneself, many children are still bored by everything (maybe even more so than when the book was written). It has a great lesson for readers and it is very entertaining and funny.
High interest annotation: Everything bores young Milo, so perhaps a trip through the phantom tollbooth is just what he needs to embark on a journey of discovery that will change all that