I have met many, many adults who consider this book their favorite book of all time, even though they haven’t read it in twenty or thirty years. And I have met even more adults who have never heard of it.
The story is ultimately an adventure story, with the main character traveling in a strange land, meeting interesting characters along the way, some of whom join him. They stumble upon an epic quest and have to confront many challenges before saving the day and returning home.
But that is just the core plot. The real joy is the metaphor and wordplay. Many concepts are treated literally: Milo physically jumps to the land of Conclusions; The Spelling Bee and Humbug are large talking insects; The princesses Rhyme and Reason have been imprisoned. Milo begins the story bored, but over the course of the tale he learns that motivation and curiosity are the tools you need to help people and solve big problems.
The actor David Hyde Pierce (perhaps best known for the character Niles Crane from the TV show Frasier) recorded an audiobook version that is very well done and a good pick for a long car ride. It sounds trite to say, but it is one that the whole family can enjoy.
There was even an animated movie made in 1970 that captures much of the whimsy of the story, but doesn’t compare to reading the book and imagining the characters and hearing the wordplay in your own head.
The Phantom Tollbooth in Wikipedia
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ad for FunBrain but they have been around since 1997 and are one of the best sites for safe, educational games and videos for kids.
Their target audience is pre-k through grade 8. The site is free to use although it pays for itself via ads. The ads are not very intrusive, but do promote products like Lucky Charms and Froot Loops etc. I would have tagged this site as appropriate for younger kids, but it’s too easy for little ones to inadvertently click an ad and then not know how to get back to the site, so I recommend the site for kids who are at least 6.
The site offers games, reading, and videos.
Many of the games seem to use HTML5 rather than Flash, which means they should run on any device, in just about any browser.
The reading section has full books with scanned pages that a child can read on a tablet or phone or other device.
The video section has a lot of original content not available elsewhere, with puppet characters, cooking shows, music, and more.
All in all, a good, free, safe place to let your kid explore and learn while having fun.
This is a unique book. Sandra Boynton (most famous for desktop calendars and coffee mugs with phrases such as “Don’t Let the Turkeys Get You Down”) wrote a musical and got performers (Kevin Bacon, Eric Stoltz, Meryl Streep, etc.) to sing the songs on the included CD.
The CD is about 48 minutes long and includes 20 songs. The book includes illustrations and lyrics in the first half, and sheet music for all songs in the second half. A younger child can listen to the songs while following along in the book, and an older child can try to play along using the sheet music.
The inclusion of celebrities on the recordings will not appeal to kids, but it’s fun for adults to hear the actor Scott Bakula sing about Pig Island:
The only way to get there is by Piggy Express — You’ve got to close your eyes and then whisper, “OOO, YES!”
The music itself is not remarkable. The melodies are not memorable enough to have you humming them afterward. The fun is in the words and the pictures.
This is a Nick Jr. cartoon that was very popular with our kids. The music is particularly good.
5 animal friends play together with a different theme (Egypt, under-the-sea, space, cowboy, etc.) each episode. The friends take turns being the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ and the overall tone is very kind and gentle.
It ran from 2004 to 2010 with a total of 80 episodes.
You can watch for free at NickJr.com if you have a cable tv account, and it’s available on amazon’s streaming video service as well. (And they’re all on YouTube too, although you may have to hunt for them.)
This is a clever game that got a lot of media attention when it came out, touting its ability to teach STEM concepts, specifically logical thinking.
The box says for ages 4 and up but I don’t think 4-year-olds are able to grasp all the rules of the game, which are a bit complicated even for me. However, once we laid out all the pieces, we came up with all sorts of new games to play and had quite a lot of fun building ‘snow forts’ and taking turns trying to move the ‘lasers’ around in order to melt them.
My son got quite obsessed with the game in fact, even though we had yet to actually play it according to the official rules, and every day for about a week he wanted to play again, until he eventually got tired of it. It sits prominently on a shelf in the living room and we’ll get it down again soon. The reason we haven’t yet is because the rules are complex enough that an adult has to sit with the kids and walk them through each step.
LEGO has a free magazine that comes out 5 times per year.
In some ways the thing is one huge ad, but the puzzles and activities (mazes, code-breaking, etc.) are pretty fun and our 6-year-old looks forward to it coming in the mail.
The cost is free, but you do have to sign up for a Lego ID, which means giving your email address.
I had never heard of Ask until we got it as a gift. It’s somewhat in the same vein as Ranger Rick, but with a much snarkier tone. There is Marvin, a raccoon character in Ask, but unlike Rick, Marvin is a bit of a jerk.
There are no ads and each issue is a mix of long-form articles and comics.
What is most striking about Ask is the articles are quite deep and detailed. Articles on candy, or explosions, or glass get into the chemistry and physics of the subject with much more detail than is found in most media aimed at adults.
I remember seeing “A Grand Day Out” at an animation festival around 1990, and then seeing “The Wrong Trousers” and “A Close Shave” a few years later. I was so thrilled by them (not least by the incredible chase scenes toward the end of ‘Trousers’ and ‘Shave’) that I seriously considered animation as a career.
Our kids love these, in particular the first one, “A Grand day Out” in which Wallace and Gromit build a rocket to visit the Moon. We’ve tried to show them more recent Wallace and Gromit adventures such as “A Matter of Loaf and Death” and “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” but they found them to be a bit too scary.
The themes are very much G-rated and are hilarious for both kids and adults.