by Norton Juster, illustrations by Jules Feiffer, published 1961
“When we’re fully grown up, or, as you can see, grown down, our feet finally touch. Of course there are a few of us whose feet never reach the ground no matter how old we get, but I suppose it’s the same in every family.”
The best part of reading and re-reading The Phantom Tollbooth is that it always feels new. I love reading a classic children’s book like this, which remains absolutely timeless, true, and relevant in every single word. I remember the general premise of the book, but laugh at the details and marvel at the wit every time I read it again.
That the book is a treasure is not a question. The question that arose was regarding the appropriate age. The young hero is ten years old, and in one respect, it’s a good starting place. However, the humor and puns about language and mathematics may exceed the capacity of most ten-year-old children, and my sense is that they may soon get bored. In the end, I think that certainly twelve and up would be best, and high school would be even better.
That being said, this could make a fun family children’s book, where you read it aloud to your ten-year-old, and then talk about all the parts they don’t understand. I could easily see my son and grandson enjoying this together when the little one reaches 10 or 11.
In any case, determine for yourself the right age, but no matter what, include it in your library. It is also a fabulous children’s book to use in a classroom, especially 6th grade math or English. There are teacher’s guides available.
Find this at your local bookstore