I love our mom/kid book club. This weekend was our smallest meeting yet, since one of the boys and his mom couldn’t make it, but we got to discuss one of my all time favorite books: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. If you’ve never read it, go find it. It’s fun for little kids even if they don’t understand much of it, perfect for upper elementary kids who will learn a lot, and frankly, it always leaves me inspired. Every time I read that book I get excited about the idea of doing everything, even math problems. (And trust me, I’m not normally a fan of math problems, so that’s some effective writing.)
For anyone not familiar with the book, basically it’s about a boy
named Milo who wastes his time and finds nothing interesting until he
comes home from school one day to discover a mysterious tollbooth in his
room. He travels through the tollbooth into a strange new world where
he finds companions and embarks on a mission to rescue a pair of
princesses. The whole book is designed around clever word play with the
larger goal of making learning exciting. Milo visits Dictionopolis
(the land of words), and Digitopolis (the land of numbers), and many
unexpected places in between. The princesses he’s trying to rescue are
Rhyme and Reason, who have been banished into the Mountains of
Ignorance, and nothing has gone well in the land since they left.
The kids all asked great questions about the book: What was your
favorite place in it? Was it all in Milo’s imagination or not? Which
demon was the scariest? And one girl made a big list of all the
expressions she didn’t understand which turned out to be a lot of fun to
explain, such as “Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” and “Make
hay while the sun shines.”
The funny part about hosting book club, though, is that I end up reading the book with a different sort of attention. When
you have to come up with a snack and a craft related to the book, any
mention of food becomes important. There is a character in the book who
passes around a box of sugar coated punctuation marks at one point, and
Aden and I looked at each other and said, “Hey! Snack!” We made ours
out of chocolate shortbread. Periods and commas were the easiest, Aden
did the exclamation points, and I reshaped dough cut from a ‘5’ cookie
cutter that we happened to have into question marks.
My kids had other elaborate ideas for food, like subtraction stew and
all the letters of the alphabet made from different foods starting with
each of those letters, but there’s a limit.
For the craft we decided to make rocks to chip apart. In the book
people get numbers by mining for them. They also tend to find jewels as
they dig, but those just get tossed onto a big pile. So I went to Home
Depot and asked someone there what the worst and weakest plaster-like
compound was that they carry, because encasing numbers inside plaster of
Paris could take the kids forever to chip out. I was directed toward
some drywall compound that sets in five minutes and that worked great.
Aden and I mixed some up in disposable cups and added in handfuls of
fake jewels and a few plastic numbers (which we found in the clock-making section of a craft store), and then the next morning cut away the cups.
Ian took Mona and Quinn off to Bug Day at the local nature center
during Aden’s book club, but we saved them a couple of Digitopolis
It’s so good, in fact, we’ve decided to start a book club for Mona
now. She’s been worming her way into the last few meetings with Aden’s
group, much to Aden’s chagrin, so I asked Mona if we should invite some
of her own friends over to talk about books and she was thrilled.
She’s already decided on “How to Train Your Dragon” for our first read
so I need to start talking with some other parents soon. I love Mona’s
Now if I can just find a book club for ME. I don’t even need a craft
and a snack! I just miss serious reading and discussions. I’ve been
making myself find time to just sit quietly and read again like I did
before I had children and I’m glad I have. Because there is no other
satisfaction quite like that of a good book. I’m glad my kids are
learning that, too.