The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster feels a bit like a blend of Alice in Wonderland meets the Number Devil with a dash of almost (academic non-religious) personified moralism reminiscent of Pilgrim’s Progress. The book tells the story of Milo, who travels into the lands of Wisdom and then to find the princesses Rhyme and Reason. Like any good fairy-tale character Milo is given magical gifts which he then uses to find his way past the demons and phantoms that live in the Mountains of Ignorance.
The moralistic aspects of The Phantom Tollbooth pertain largely to making good use of one’s time neither waiting at Expectations, nor getting lost in the doldrums where no one thinks, nor caught up in petty tasks and worthless jobs. However there are other little moralistic aspects, including cautions not to jump to (the island of) conclusions, and to be honest in what one says, not exaggerating nor being too frightened to take a stance (like the Gelatinous Giant).
I’m pretty sure a whole curriculum could be developed around the book The Phantom Tollbooth. The following are some ideas I had while reading the book. Some of these I have put to use with my children, some I have not.
The Marketplace of Dictionopolis.
In Dictionopolis words are grown on trees and then sold at the marketplace. Creating a marketplace and play-acting some of the different sellers and buyers allows for exploring all sorts of language arts skills. Some ideas are as follows:
- Create trees and tape words to them. Do different trees grow different types of words? Are they grouped according to the eight types of words, or are they grouped according to word roots, or spelling patterns?
- The Which is imprisoned, so there is no one to help the people of Dictionopolis determined which words to use. Have a stumped resident trying to write a story, asking for help on which words should be used. Use the opportunity to discuss the subtle differences between synonyms.
- What do different letters taste like? Are some sounds softer than others? Talk about their tastes and how alliteration gives flavor to writing.
- Have a “make your own word” station. Talk about the spelling rules for making familiar words and create some crazy ones with new definitions.
- Would you like to buy a pronoun? A stand selling pronouns is a great way to review which pronouns are used for the subject of a sentence and which are used as objects.
- Five of the characters all say the same things in different words. Try acting them out together.
- Have a mock meal at the King Azaz table. Can you produce a light meal? A square meal? What would you order? What speech would you give, knowing you’ll have to eat your words? What do you think Milo’s meal looked and tasted like?