Want a Kid Who Loves Words? Read Them The Phantom Tollbooth


Even though I feel like I read a lot as a kid, I don’t have a lot of books that I really remember just loving as a child. I didn’t read a lot of classics, and I don’t feel like there were a lot of books that left an impression at a young age.

But one book I have always loved, and that I couldn’t wait to read to the girl, was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

the phantom tollbooth
My copy of The Phantom Tollbooth from my childhood. It cost $2.95. Worth every penny.

Everyone I talk to about this book either loves it or has never heard of it. I don’t think it’s possible to not like it (and if you don’t, please let me know because I don’t think we can be friends anymore if that’s the case).

If you don’t know it, it tells the story of Milo, the quintessential bored kid, full of middle school ennui who gets taken on an amazing adventure through the kingdom of wisdom.

“There once was a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself–not just sometimes, but always,” the story begins.

When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he’d bothered.

With the help of a tollbooth that mysteriously appears in his bedroom, he visits the lands of Dictionopolis (where words come from) and Digitopolis, ruled by warring brothers both convinced their part of the world is most important. There’s a Humbug, a ticking watchdog named Tock, two princesses named Rhyme and Reason, a trip to the Doldrums and so much more.

reading favorite books to kids
Reading with the girl before school. Is there anything better?

It is punny and silly and funny and delightful. When I mentioned I was reading it to the girl, I got comments of love from a lot of my word nerd friends.

I really think this book is the way we get kids interested in language, in storytelling, in having fun with words.

It’s probably mostly going over her head, but we’re up to chapter seven and she keeps picking it back up and telling me she thinks it’s funny, but that could just be because of the dog with a clock in its side.

Whatever. I’ll take it. I love that we are getting to share this book and hopefully will read it together a few more times as she gains more understanding of what it’s really about.

What book from your childhood were/are you really excited to introduce to your kids? I’d love to hear about it!

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