Imagine sitting in your room with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and nobody to see. You are basically bored out of your mind, and then suddenly … a tollbooth appears. Well, what would you do? Would you pay the toll and go through?
“There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself – not just sometimes, but always. 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.”
If I could bring one character to life from my all-time favorite book, it would be Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his bedroom one day, he, having absolutely nothing better to do, dusts off his toy car, pays the toll and drives through. As Juster writes:
“And then, to one side of the room, just next to the phonograph, he noticed something he had certainly never seen before. Who could possibly have left such an enormous package and such a strange one? For, while it was not quite square, it was definitely not round, and for its size it was larger than almost any other big package of smaller dimension that he’d ever seen. Attached to one side was a bright-blue envelope which said simply: “FOR MILO, WHO HAS PLENTY OF TIME.”
Although this book may be considered, “Children’s Literature,” it is never too late to pick it up and be instantly entertained with an original, ironic and hilarious journey of a restless 10-year-old boy who learns to appreciate the ordinary things in life after his whimsical travels.
“And he closed his eyes and poked a finger at the map. “Dictionopolis,” read Milo slowly when he saw what his finger had chosen. “Oh, well, I might as well go there as anywhere.” He walked across the room and dusted the car off carefully. Then, taking the map and rulebook with him, he hopped in and, for lack of anything better to do, drove slowly up to the tollbooth. As he deposited his coin and rolled past he remarked wistfully, “I do hope this is an interesting game, otherwise the afternoon will be so terribly dull.”
Milo jumps to the island of Conclusions and meets the Whether Man in Dictionopolis (the land of words), who teaches Milo that it is “more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be.” He visits Digitopolis (the land of numbers) and picks up Tock the watchdog, who appears to be a giant alarm clock. He stumbles upon the Spelling Bee who spells more than he speaks and experiences the Lethargians in the Doldrums!
One thing I love about this quirky novel is that it is not only witty and entertaining, but it teaches us how to cherish life’s little wonders. Milo learns the importance of words and numbers in order to cure his boredom. Knowledge itself is a gift. He learns that life is far from dull. Every single person you meet, even if you meet the Lethargians in the Doldrums, is a new adventure that awaits you. In the end, Milo says, “there is just so much to do right here.”