It’s sooo punny!

Book Cover photo

I’m about 50 years late to the party so excuse me if this post feels out of date and you already know all that I’m going to say. I hazard to guess however that some of you have missed out on the greatness, as I had, until this past fall.

I have the KC Star to thank for the introduction to, and the journey through, this whimsical, intelligent, hilarious, smart, and moving book, actually written for children. The Star highlighted good reads for the fall on a Sunday in October- an ode to back to school season and the cooler weather. I gravitated towards the juvenile fiction section and bought two they recommended on my Kindle because they were under $5. The first was this book- The Phantom Tollbooth, written by Norton Juster and interestingly illustrated by Jules Feiffer.

The book pushes Milo, a little bored elementary school-aged boy out of his complacency, and over the ever pressing adolescent complaint that “there’s nothing for me to do, nowhere I’d care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing”, and into the wide world of seeing things beyond what they appear to be and appreciating the nuances of words, numbers, places and people.

Juster writes with whit, puns, world plays, and humor- some of which go straight over the heads of most 10-year-olds, but which draw in, delight, and dare adults to think and think differently. I am a sucker for puns, plays on words, and most anything that is corny. (Just last night turning tabata squats at the gym- trainer Manny said, “Watch your bottom”, meaning make sure we got full range of motion- going deep into the bottom of the squat motion, but also meaning, make sure our butt’s (our actual bottom) hit the medicine ball that was marking our motion. I dissolved into giggles. I love this kind of stuff). Juster uses world plays and puns to challenge Milo to think about what he believes to be true about the world. Assumptions and mindlessness are exposed. Stereotypes are used to dig deeper into how the world works and what is good and true about living thoughtfully,with a hunger for continual learning and growth.

My favorite encounters of Milo with characters and places in the book include: (I do so hope to not violate copyrights- please buy the book- it’s sooooo good!!!)

1. Expectations- “the place you must always go to got before you get to where you’re going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations…”

2. The “Lethargarians” in “the Doldrums”– ” ‘Everybody thinks,’ said Milo, quite indignantly, ‘We don’t!’, shouted the Lethargarians all at once, ‘And most of the time you don’t…that’s why you’re here. You weren’t thinking, and you weren’t paying attention either. People who don’t pay attention often get stuck in the doldrums’ “.

3. The WatchDog- (yep, he’s the dog on the cover)- ” ‘Just killing time,’ replied Milo apologetically, ‘You see–‘  ‘KILLING TIME!’ roared the dog, ‘It’s bad enough wasting time without killing it.’ “… ” “Since you got here by not thinking, it seems reasonable to expect that, in order to get out, you must start thinking.’ ”

4. On Words- ” ‘I never knew words could be so confusing,’ Milo said to Tock as he bent down to scratch the dog’s ear. ‘Only when you use a lot to say a little,’ answered Tock.” and “ ‘Dig in,’ said the king, poking Milo with his elbow and looking disapprovingly at this plate. ‘I can’t say I think much of your choice.’ ‘I didn’t know I was going to have to eat my words,’ objected Milo. ‘Of course, of course, everyone here does,’ the king grunted. ‘You should have made a tastier speech.'”

5. On Pace- “‘ Many years ago, on this very spot, there was a beautiful city of fine houses and inviting spaces, and no one who lived here was ever in a hurry. The streets were full of wonderful things to see and the people would often stop to look at them.’ ‘Didn’t they have any place to go?’ asked Milo. ‘To be sure,’ continued Alec, ‘But, as you know, the most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in-between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that. Then one day someone discovered that if you walked as fast as possible and looked at nothing but your shoes you would arrive at your destination much more quickly. Soon everyone was doing it. They all rushed..and hurried…seeing nothing of the wonders and the beauties of their city as they went.’ “

And just a few more morsels like…

“Infinity is a dreadfully poor place. They can never manage to make ends meet.”

“My goodness,” said Milo, “everybody is so terribly sensitive about the things they know best.”

“You must never feel badly about making mistakes”, explained Reason quietly, “as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

“And it’s much the same with knowledge, for whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer.”

The book is so good. Today is the 50th anniversary of it’s release and the Star’s article detailed the humble and endearing author’s almost un-chosen calling to write a book that would help children and adults grow up, appreciating what we have right in front of us. I think I’ll read it yearly and can’t wait to read it aloud with my children.

I so hope you also enjoy the phun.



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