Dad: Our latest bedtime storybook we worked through was "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster. Do you guys remember enough about The Phantom Tollbooth to talk about it?
Lily (age 6): First, I have to tell everyone something. This is a chapter book.
Dad: You are right. But there were pictures in it too.
Dad: The pictures were by Jules Feiffer. He's a pretty famous illustrator. Is there anything you want to say about the pictures.
Gracie (age 9): They were good.
Dad: Alrighty then.
Lily: The story is about a kid named Milo.
Gracie: At the beginning of the book, he is the most bored kid on earth. He has a thousand toys that he's never ever ever in his whole life used before. But he thinks he has nothing to do.
Isaac (age 11): Then this package comes, and in it there is a tollbooth.
Dad: Do you guys even know what a tollbooth is?
Isaac: Yeah. When you go into a different state there are tollbooths, and you have to pay money. In case you wreck the roads and stuff.
Gracie: So Milo puts a coin in, and he takes a little car... and I don't know where he got the car... and he drives through the tollbooth. And he goes to this crazy world.
Lily: His room just had a red car in it.
Gracie: I think it was a toy car he could drive. A blue car.
Isaac: No it was red.
Dad: Well, the pictures in the book were black and white...
Lily: It was red.
Dad: Let's check the story and see what it says...
Isaac: Blue is not a good color for a car.
Gracie: Blue is the perfect color for a 3 foot car.
Dad: Here we go... Here's the answer... Ready? The book says, "He looked glumly at all the things he owned... the small electric automobile he hadn't driven in months--or was it years..." So what's the answer?
Gracie: It's blue!
Dad: The answer is: The book doesn't give us a color. It's whatever color it was in your imagination.
Gracie: Isaac, schwatreuse would be a better color on that car.
Isaac: There's no such thing as "schwa-treuse."
Dad: You mean chartreuse? I think you guys need some kind of "truce." Since the author doesn't tell us in the book, then he intentionally wanted to leave it to your imagination. Agreed? It's blue to one person, red to the other, and that's okay.
Gracie & Isaac: Purple!?!
Dad: Okay, moving on...
Gracie: Milo goes to this crazy world. And he goes on a special mission to save Princesses Rhyme and Reason. And he meets, like, 100 different crazy characters on the way.
Isaac: Everything had become chaos, and everyone was fighting. So they needed Rhyme and Reason back.
Lily: Milo meets Tock.
Gracie: My favorite character!
Lily: He goes tick tick tick tick tick... Tock is a dog with a clock on his side.
Gracie: A watchdog!
Lily: He is comforting.
Dad: Tock is a good friend to Milo, isn't he.
Gracie: If I had to have a dog with a giant watch attached to his stomach, I would definitely want Tock. He's always trying to protect Milo. And whenever he gets really mad or excited, his alarm goes off.
Dad: Do you know what a "pun" is?
Isaac: A word joke?
Dad: Yep. There were lots of pun-characters in this book, weren't there? Like "watchdog."
Gracie: A dog with a clock.
Dad: And we know what a "spelling bee" is in real life. But what was it in the book?
Lily: A bee that spells everything.
Dad: Okay, we've described Milo and Tock. Who was the third main character?
Lily: The Humbug. He is a black bug. And he has a coat. He is full of himself. He's always like, "Look at me! Look what I did!"
Gracie: He's mostly focused on himself.
Isaac: The Humbug agrees with everyone. He's focused on not getting into trouble and on looking like the smart one.
Gracie: And he's a big scaredy.
Dad: What were the two main lands they visited?
Lily: The alphabet place and the number place.
Gracie: Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. And the two kings were Azaz and the Mathemagician.
Dad: So, we described our three heroes. But there are sooooo many other crazy folks they meet on their adventure... there's no way we can cover them all. How about each of you pick just one to tell us about. Tell us one favorite each.
Gracie: There was this kid named Alec who floats. He grows down instead of up. His head starts from how high up he's going to be when he's an adult, and his feet grow down to the floor. But his head stays the same height his whole life.
Dad: And his family thinks that makes more sense.
Isaac: Because then you can always have the same perspective.
Dad: We grow up, so our perspective is always changing. His stays the same.
Gracie: But what if he wanted to see a little tiny pebble when he was only 3 years old? Then he would be like, "I can't reach the ground... I can't see a pebble, I want to see a pebble..."
Dad: What character do you want to tell us about, Isaac?
Isaac: I liked Canby. He's this guy who is everything. He says "I'm as tall as can be, I'm as small as can be..."
Gracie: "I'm as skinny as can be, I'm as brave as can be..."
Dad: Do you remember where they met him?
Isaac: Conclusions. That's an island.
Dad: And how do you get there?
Gracie: You always jump to Conclusions.
Isaac: It only happens when you decide something without knowing the facts.
Dad: Your turn, Lily.
Lily: I want to tell you about the number person. The Mathemagician. Milo asked him, "What is the biggest number?" And it was a giant 3. Then Milo said "No, no, no, I mean the longest number." And it was a big looooong 8.
Dad: Great. Any way to summarize the book as a whole?
Gracie: It's crazy. It's so crazy.
Dad: And did they ever save those princesses they were off to find?
Isaac: I'll just leave that so you have to read the book. I'm not going to say what happens, because everyone has to read the book.