We finished reading The Phantom Tollbooth tonight, and I had never read it before, but had always heard of it. This is part of the fun of reading with your children - you get to read things you love, and learn to love new things, too.
The Story: Milo doesn't enjoy life. Everything seems to be a waste of time, and he never enjoys what he is doing, always thinking about what else he could be doing. When he gets a mysterious gift of a tollbooth, he has no idea how his way of thinking is going to change. He goes on an adventure, starting with a toll paid into the phantom tollbooth. He enters the very literal city of Dictionopolis, travels to the numerical Digitopolis, and seeks to restore the princesses Rhyme and Reason to their rightful place as leaders of the entire Kingdom of Wisdom. He fights his way through Ignorance along the way, makes some very good friends, and learns that maybe there are things in his own life to be enjoyed, just as they are.
The Good: It's a fun read for the parent, I think. There are a lot of puns and plays on words and ironic twists of plot that may go over the average child's head at first glance, but which I found very enjoyable. Evalina thought it was funny, and loved the quest for the princesses. She also got a lot of the jokes and lessons that I didn't expect her to. Milo becomes likeable and learns to be brave and his friends, Tock the Watchdog and the Humbug, are steadfast and true. I think it is equally suited for girls or boys. The lesson that Rhyme and Reason are needed for Wisdom to prevail is a good one, and if she can hold that in her head, it's a win. There are also fun illustrations throughout.
The Bad: As I said, some of the puns go a bit over Evalina's head. Some of the creatures they meet are downright dastardly, and I could see having nightmares about Trivium, the demon who causes you to get caught up in meaningless tasks and never lets you get anything done, or any of the other demons that Milo and his friends encounter in the Mountains of Ignorance. Evalina hasn't complained about anything of the sort, but I can see it as a possibility. Other than that, I can't think of anything to negative.
The Verdict: A really great and fun book! Probably better suited for the recommended ages of 9-12, but it was fine for Evalina. I hope that she re-reads it on her own when she is older, so that she can get some more out of it. I really enjoyed reading it with her, though. I think Milo learned some valuable lessons, and I hope that Evalina takes them to heart. I can recommend this one heartily.