Beginning to read The Phantom Tollbooth I was concerned with how well this book reached children. From my own experiences reading to children and listening to them read aloud I have seen numerous examples of skimming over words they don’t know or buzzing through a chapter only to have no comprehension of what was just read. This was the difficulty I experienced at the start of Juster’s book. Then came Dictionopolis and my opinion of the book began to grow as the complexity unfolded into wisdom. Milo’s interactions and exploration showed this dynamic side of words that children are not normally exposed to in the classroom. Words are no longer just letters typed on a page to learn but rather a gateway into a greater world in which the possibilities are endless.
Juster begins this way, by giving children just a taste of all that can be done with words and the fun that can be had. Learning new words becomes this great game and even a way to excel as the King gives Milo his dictionary as protection for a treacherous journey. Words in Dictionopolis are life. They add color and fun into everything done and this adds a certain playfulness that is also educationally based to the book. I see great importance in what Juster does here and it relates to the book from childhood I have written on, Anne of Green Gables. Both books use obtuse vocabulary that children would never hear before and likely not know but in such a way that the meaning can be deduced and excitement to learn more can occur.
Juster does not only play with expansive vocabulary. Words and phrases are flip-flopped around through much of the book. This causes children to slow down and listen to what is being said as well as think a little deeper. While, for example, (when speaking of a bucket of water) “from an ant’s point of view it’s a vast ocean, from an elephant’s just a cool drink, and to a fish, of course, it’s home.” this is a fun word play it is also something to think about. Everyone has a different perspective on things while still all being right and this is a great lesson for children to learn. There are many examples of these quick snippets that Milo is told that can actually be projected as great lessons for the children reading the book. Overall, this book seems much on the surface a fun and playful children’s book but if you take a closer look there is much depth and thought put into it that can really foster a child’s reading ability and passion for language.