Nov. Kids' Book Club Pick: 'The Phantom Tollbooth'

The Phantom Tollbooth

by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer

Paperback, 256 pages | purchase

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The Phantom Tollbooth
Author
Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer

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We are starting a special project at NPR aimed at our younger listeners. We're talking about all those young people who listen to NPR programs while riding in the car or sitting at the kitchen table. We'd like you to lend us your ears and your curiosity. This fall, All Things Considered is rolling out NPR's Backseat Book Club for kids ages 9 to 14.

We're asking young people and their parents to join us in reading a special book each month. We also want young readers to join in the conversation with that book's author. We want to know what you think about the book. And most important, we want to give authors a chance to answer your questions. This is a great way for All Things Considered to celebrate kids' books and to provide a special treat for all those youngsters who are fed a steady diet of NPR news.

For October we read The Graveyard Book by the award-winning, best-selling author Neil Gaiman. For November ... drum roll please ... we've selected a book that's celebrating a big anniversary: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. The book was published in 1961; five decades later, it is still much loved and widely read. And, after all this time, the story of the bored little boy who travels on a journey to the Lands Beyond still feels fresh. The jokes are still funny. The language is still captivating. And the excursions through the Sea of Knowledge, the Mountains of Ignorance and the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping) are still quite magical. That's saying something when you consider that The Phantom Tollbooth was written before the age of computers, cellphones or digital watches.

We know you will love the story of Milo. We hope you read the book and send in your questions for author Norton Juster and illustrator Jules Feiffer. This is not just a great book. It is also a great parable about following your heart. When Juster first wrote the book, few were confident that it would find a big audience. He said publishers told him that kids wouldn't get the puns or fast-snap wordplay. And though fantasy is now the lifeblood of children's fiction, at the time it was presumed that fantastical stories would confuse young minds. Juster pressed on because he believed in his book and he believed that children would relate to a bored little boy who dreamed of big adventures.

Since this book has had such great staying power, chances are your parents or other relatives may have read The Phantom Tollbooth when they were young. That makes this a great choice for a family read. Also, the language is so delicious that you might want to read this book out loud with friend or a buddy. In any case, enjoy — and then join in the conversation.

One last thing: If it's OK with your parents, please ask them to email a picture of you reading The Phantom Tollbooth to backseatbookclub@npr.org. We just might post some of those photos on our upcoming readers gallery.

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