NYT has a wonderful essay by Norton Juster about the genesis of The Phantom Tollbooth. And we now have a beautiful Annotated Phantom Tollbooth, brilliantly edited by Leonard Marcus. It’s wonderful to see the book in large format, with high production values that do justice to a work that derives its firepower from wordplay.
Not everyone in the publishing world of the 1960s embraced The Phantom Tollbooth. Many said that it was not a children’s book, the vocabulary was much too difficult, and the ideas were beyond kids. To top it off, they claimed fantasy was bad for children because it disorients them.
The prevailing wisdom of the time held that learning should be more accessible and less discouraging. The aim was that no child would ever have to confront anything that he or she didn’t already know.
But my feeling is that there is no such thing as a difficult word. There are only words you don’t know yet — the kind of liberating words that Milo encounters on his adventure.
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