Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dear Norton Juster:

I just saw you’re speaking at the SCBWI-LA conference this summer, and it’s killing me that I’m not able to attend.

When my sixth-grader teacher assigned THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH to my class, I loved all your clever expressions, the “synonym buns”; the average guy who claimed to be the shortest giant, tallest midget, thinnest fat man, and fattest thin man; the Humbug’s anxious response of “Seventeen!” every time he was faced with a math problem.

Then I went on to teach sixth grade, and THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH became my favorite novel to share. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve read your book at least thirty times. There are phrases that still float through my mind, words that roll off the tongue so perfectly, like the Humbug’s pronouncement, “A slavish concern for the composition of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect,” or the Whether Man’s “It’s more important to know whether their will be weather than what the weather will be.”

Kids love  your book -- even kids who, like Milo, aren’t really into school and learning and things like spelling February. I had a student two years in a row, who when he discovered my younger students were reading about Milo, Tock, and the Humbug, begged me to let him read along. In his social studies class. This is a kid who otherwise would be labeled as a reluctant reader.

And the activities we did, all in conjunction with your book! A word market just like the one Milo encounters in Digitopolis, color poetry inspired by Chroma the Great’s colorful symphony, and everyone’s favorite, the words vs. numbers debate.

I’ve written you fan mail full of questions my students had, like why didn’t Milo’s car ever run out of gas? Did Milo ever return to the Lands Beyond? Did other kids get sent on a quest to return Rhyme and Reason to Wisdom?

Thank you for creating a book that has brought me so much pleasure and has awakened curiosity in so many children.

From a former sixth-grade fan,
Caroline Starr Rose


  1. Thanks for writing about this wonderful classic. I only just discovered it recently, and what a joy it was to read. A new fan!

  2. The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my favorites too! Thanks for this post, Caroline.

  3. I love finding out others love this book! A friend going to the LA conference has told me to mail her my book so she can try and get it signed. Hooray!

  4. This and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY were my two favorite books as a kid. Love, love, love!

  5. If I had to memorize ONE book, ala Fahrenheit 451, I think it would be this book. That said, there are a lot of my students who struggle with this one.

  6. I probably have 3 copies of this book in my room, but I've never read it. I'm going to change that! :)

  7. Ms. Yingling, I love the Fahrenheit 451 reference. Every word of this book is golden and a pleasure to read and say.

    I understand students struggling with this one. It's complex and witty and needs some explanation. What worked best for me was to read it aloud while students followed in their own copies, discussing things along the way and creating lessons that would take them deeper into the ideas presented in the book.

    Jemi, so glad. Please tell me what you think!

  8. I've heard wonderful things about this book. Although I own it, I haven't read it yet. I should remedy this right away.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!