Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Catching up on a Classic: The Phantom Tollbooth

Here on the TeachingAuthors blog, we've been discussing the classic children's books we never read till adulthood. The series was inspired, in part, by Esther's interview with Leonard Marcus in honor of the release of The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth last month. When Esther first told me about the new book, I felt a twinge of guilt--I'd never read the original Phantom Tollbooth. So I suggested this topic to motivate me to finally read Norton Juster's masterpiece. If you're wondering what classics and must-reads you may have missed, be sure to check out the links in the Writing Workout below.

I wasn't reading yet in 1961 when The Phantom Tollbooth was first published, but that was no excuse for my not reading this classic. When, as an adult, I became interested in writing for children, I began reading voraciously in the field. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, which Mary Ann blogged about on Monday, was one of the many children's books I came to as an adult that I fell in love with. (Unlike Mary Ann, I'm somewhat of a Math geek, which made me love L'Engle's book all the more!) Yet, despite a number of fellow children's literature enthusiasts telling me that Tollbooth was one of their all-time favorites, I never made time to read the book, until Esther's interview with Leonard Marcus inspired me to do so a few weeks ago.

I'm happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The wordplay and puns are great fun, but the Math geek in me was especially happy to see the book's celebration of numbers. I was also impressed at how Juster wove important themes about the value of education and action into such an entertaining read. One of my favorite paragraphs (among many) was:
"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."
I believe the combination of entertainment and enduring themes contributed to making The Phantom Tollbooth such a classic. I'm grateful to Leonard Marcus for bringing this book back into the spotlight. In case you missed the short video in which Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer, and Leonard Marcus discuss the book's creation, I've embedded it below, or you can watch it at YouTube here.

Are there any classic children's/young adult books you missed reading as a child or teen? If so, please share their titles in the comments below. And if you need suggestions of children's/YA books now considered "must reads," see the Writing Workout below. 

Writing Workout:
Reading the Best Children's Books

How well-read are you in the field of children's and young adult literature? Last year, Elizabeth Bird at School Library Journal's Fuse#8 blog took a survey of her readers to come up with a list of the top 100 Children's Novels. The Phantom Tollbooth is #10 on that list. Now that I've read it, I can say I've read all the top 10! However, I see that there are two in the top 20 I haven't read yet: #16 Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and #18 Matilda by Roald Dahl. Time to check those out.

If you are a picture book fan, you can see the results of her poll for the top 100 Picture Books, put together in 2009.

The Persnickety Snark blog conducted a similar poll in 2010 to determine the top 100 Young Adult Novels. (I've read the top 9 there. Hmm. More books to add to my reading list!)

If reader polls aren't your thing, this page links to lists of the best children's books as determined by a variety of organizations, including the New York Public Library, Publisher's Weekly, and the UK newspaper, The Guardian

Your assignment for this Writing Workout is actually a Reading Workout: Pick a genre and determine which of the books on these "best books" lists you haven't read yet, then read at least THREE of them! When you're done, come back and post a comment to any of our blog posts sharing your experience.

Happy Writing, and Reading!


Caroline Starr Rose said...

I love, love, love this book and have probably read it 30 times with various classes through the years. It makes me happy when some one picks it up!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm, Caroline. :-)

April Halprin Wayland said...

I LOVE this Writing/Reading workout, Carmela--really wonderful.