Imagine you go to a marketplace and instead of buying fruit and vegetables you buy words. Well, this is what Milo, hero of The Phantom Tollboothdoes on one of his adventures in the land of Dictionopolis.
“Get your fresh-picked ifs, ands and buts.”
“Hey-yaa, hey-yaa, hey-yaa, nice ripe wheres and whens.”
“Juicy, tempting words for sale.”
So many words and so many people!
Could I resist playing with this idea for my Magic Pencil after school club? No, I could not. So I made a little sign reading WORD SELLER and hung it round my neck (the children thought I was an incy bit mad) and set up a word market in the garden. First of all, as a group they created their own currency and then I scattered some challenging words they may not know (written out on cardboard) around the garden, with varying prices on them, depending on the length. I gave them the same amount of ‘money’ each and then off they went shopping to buy six words each that they liked the sound of, stressing that it didn’t matter whether they understood the meaning or not.
Once their words had been bought, I allowed them to do a little trading with one another so they had at least two words they understood in their pile and then both verbally and in written form the children wrote a definition of a couple of words plus a sentence with the word in context. This threw up some wonderful sentences with words such as flabbergasted, scuffled and disdainful and proved a pretty fun way to learn some new vocabulary.
A quick note about this book, this needs to be on the must-read of every child’s bookshelf (and adults). As Milo journeys across the lands of both Dictionopolis and Digitopolis to try and rescue Rhyme and Reason, two banished princesses, he encounters a huge cast of wise, wonderful, wicked and zany characters such as the Dodecahedron, (a mathematical being with twelve faces), Faintly Macabre (the not-so-wicked Which who chooses the best words for the kingdom) and my own personal favourite, Chroma the conductor who controls and conducts all the colour in the world through his orchestra and hands his baton over to Milo early one morning to conduct the sunrise in.
At heart, The Phantom Tollbooth is a fabulous, intelligent celebration of our world filled with words and numbers and is sure to delight both young and old.
“Ah, the open road!” exclaimed the Humbug, breathing deeply, for he now seemed happily resigned to the trip. “The spirit of adventure, the lure of the unknown, the thrill of a gallant quest. How very grand indeed.”