The Phantom Tollbooth
Saturday is the perfect time to wander through the stacks (that’s librarian-speak for “bookshelves”) and talk about books and the people who write them. Pull up a comfy chair and settle in, because today I want to chat about a book from my childhood that fundamentally shaped who I am as a writer (and as a person): Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.
If you aren’t familiar with The Phantom Tollbooth, you can read all about it here. It may sound on the surface, like your typical young reader fantasy fare, but I assure you, it is anything but. When I first read the book at the age of seven or eight, I couldn’t get enough of the Milo’s travels through the Kingdom of Wisdom. I was terrified of the Doldrums and fascinated by the Not-so-Wicked Which, Faintly Macabre (a joke I didn’t get until I was much older). More than anything though, I saw myself in Milo — a young child unsure of their place in the ordinary world, unsure if anything out there was worth the time to explore.
The book itself is filled with delicious wordplay and explores the idea that the bravest thing we can do in this world is to be open to exploring it — to constantly challenge ourselves to learn and be curious.
Without this book, I honestly don’t think I would have turned into a writer. Because what is a writer, if not someone who is constantly curious about the world in which they live? The Phantom Tollbooth made me fall in love with the world. It also made me fall in love with language and the way it can shape and change reality. I am eternally grateful to Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer for their contributions to children’s literature and their impact on my life particularly.
Is there a book from your childhood that you look back on fondly? Did it set you on a path that you still follow to this day? Let’s chat about it in the comments below!