The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: Review and Activities

Posted by: 

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is a feast of a book as it opens up opportunities in Language Arts, Reading, Spelling, Grammar, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Art, and even Character Development.  Whew!  That is a lot!  

I decided to let my daughter write the synopsis of  Phantom Tollbooth, since it is a favorite of hers.  She hopes you will walk away wanting to read this book!

To Milo, his life is dull and unimportant until one day he finds a tollbooth in his room.   Because he has nothing else to do, he drives in with a toy car and ultimately finds himself in prison with a 6 million year sentence.  Listening to his cell mate, a poor witch (named Which) whose only hope of becoming free is the return of Rhyme and Reason, the King's daughters who were captured.  She commissions Milo to help by rescuing them.  This leads Milo on a perilous journey that others claimed impossible.  With his faithful watchdog, Tock, by his side and his friend The Humbug, they give it their best shot to bring back Rhyme and Reason--But will they succeed?  You will have to read the book to find out!

-Liv, age 11

Math teachers will love how Norton Juster encourages the study of Mathematics, and shows how useful it is to everyday life.  Students will love his creativity and the way imagination is something to be savored.  For example, meet Dodecahedron, the character with 12-faces each showing a different emotion.  Or meet the 0.58 boy from The Region of Averages who is less than a whole boy because he represents that  “Every average family has 2.58 children, so I always have someone to play with.”  The Phantom Tollbooth has great potential for great discussion about averages.  Check out the lesson Illuminations has come up with for a meaningful lesson about averages.  It is sure to get your students talking!   

There is also quite a bit of talk of time and the way we use it.  See for yourself in this excerpt from the film:  

If you want to explore Dodecahedrons some more, start by perusing this beautiful assortment of dodecahedron art!  For an easy template to make your own dodecahedron, try this fantastic dodecahedron template from Rookie Mistake or this more complicated Stellated Rhombic Dodecahedron Project from Ellison Education.   When you are finished, you just have to check out how Dearing Wang draws a dodecahedron.  Fascinating!  

As far as websites go, Schmoop is just dynamic!  Check out their Phantom Tollbooth synopsis, summary, character list and analysis, timeline information and more.  If you want a multi-disciplinary lesson, check this one out at or this one by Dan Batten.   If you loved this book, you will enjoy Juster's other book called "The Dot & The Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics."  Click on the picture for a review, samples of the illustrations, and a lesson found on the web!

On the 50th anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth, the author Norton Juster sat down to discuss the book and the way the book came to become the epic novel it is today.  You can watch it on youtube:  

Don't miss the opportunities we have as teachers to combine math and literature.  Your students will also learn more than they could through their textbooks:  they will learn the makings of a hero, the thrill of exploration, and the definition of faith. The Phantom Tollbooth is a rich literary work perfect for your math classroom and beyond!