With many books never making it to a second printing, a Golden Anniversary for a children’s book seems like a cause for celebration. This is the first of four upcoming blogs about books that have reached that distinction.
The Phantom Toll Booth, first published in 1961, resided on my “Books to Read” list until this week. I knew I was in for a good read by the time I reached page 19 when Milo decides to leave the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, to look for someone “whose sentences didn’t always sound as if they would make as much sense backwards as forwards.”
The Punny book [and yes, I spelled that right], is filled with ridiculous word plays, skewed logic, and idiotic idioms. It they don’t tickle your funny bone, you need to visit an orthopedist for an x-ray to see where it’s broken.
Morals and words of wisdom abound as Milo sets off to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason, but for heaven’s sake, don’t tell this to a child and spoil the fun.
A few of my favorite samples:
• Tock on the possibility of words becoming confusing: “Only when you use a lot to say a little.”
• The Soundkeeper: “You can’t improve sound by having only silence. The problem is to use each sound at the proper time.” [My choir director would probably agree with this one.]
• Canby: “Every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not. It’s such an easy trip to make that I’ve been here hundreds of times.” [And so, unfortunately, have I.]
• Dodecahedron: “As long as the answer is right, who cares if the question is wrong?”
• Dodecahedron, again - just in time for a political year: “They’re all the wrong way. Just because you have a choice, it doesn’t mean that any of them has to be right.”
Then there was the character familiar to most of the writers I know – Terrible Trivium, the "demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit who keeps one busy on easy and useless jobs so that they never have to worry about the important ones that are so difficult." [Think sorting paper clips to keep from editing that last chapter.]
My friend Jeannine Laughlin-Porter, long time library guru at the University of Southern Mississippi, hates age labels on books saying, “A good book is a good book,” and I concur. This book lends itself to reading aloud, shared by a child who gets one layer of meaning and an adult who adds another.
Happy 50th Anniversary to The Phantom Tollbooth!