Film, Feast, and Fiction: The Phantom Tollbooth

PhantomTollbooth2Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth. Illustrator: Jules Feiffer. New York: Scholastic, 1961.

Does anyone remember the show that aired on Friday evenings on TBS called, “Dinner and a Movie”? My family loved it.  We would come home from work and school, eat our own dinner, and sit down to watch whatever movie they were showing, and drool over the delicious dinner that was being prepared. Those recipes always violated my weeknight cooking rules (no more than 2 pans dirty and less than 40 minutes to make), still it was fun to watch them prepare something sumptuous.

In the spirit of that show, I am inaugurating my own series: Film, Feast, and Fiction.  I think it is fun to compare books and the movies made from them.  They rarely match up completely, but it is enjoyable to debate the differences with other book and movie lovers.  What goes well with a lively discussion like this?  Food, of course! I hope you enjoy the book, film, and food parings.  I hope to keep the recipes easy enough that you might consider using them for you own food, book, and movie pairing.

The fiction and film

The Phantom Tollbooth is a book about a boy, Milo by name, who is bored, bored, bored.  He has nothing to do, nothing to see, nothing to think.  He is weary from the boredom of being bored.  As he walks home from school, he doesn’t notice the lovely, sunny day or the birds singing.  At home in his apartment, he looks at his books, puzzles, and toys and sighs.  Nothing, nothing is worth the effort.  He walks into his room to flop on the bed and notices something new. It is a large package. His feeling of ennui almost over powers him, but a miniscule spark of curiosity prompts him to walk over to the package to take a look. It is a tollbooth, just the right size to fit his small electronic car.  “Curiouser and curiouser” as Alice said.  Why is it here?  Who sent it?  What do you do with it?  Affixed to the tollbooth are a map to the Lands Beyond, a token for the tollbooth, instructions to have his destination in mind when entering, and this note: “To Milo who has plenty of time.”

Without much thought, Milo shrugs, hops into his car and proceeds through the tollbooth portal to the lands beyond.  He picks a destination at random, Expectations.  Here he meets the “Whether Man”, who is no help in finding the correct direction.  He drives on and begins to daydream.  As his mind wanders, his car slows and he finds himself in the “Doldrums.” It is a dreary and gray land, which matches his mood.  Surrounded by little people he finds himself getting more and more lethargic.  He’s nearly asleep, when he is startled awake by a dog’s vigorous, loud, angry barking.  Milo is confronted by Tock the Watchdog, who will become his traveling companion.  Tock is a large dog, with a clock as a part of his body.  His arrival shakes Milo up.  Tock make Milo aware of the perils of “wasting time.”  They hop into Milo’s little car and for the first time, in a very long time, Milo is forced to use his brain and “think”.  This is a vital step in escaping the Doldrums, which is a much more dangerous place than you might believe.

In his travels, Milo goes to many strange places: Dictionopolis, Digitopolis, Conclusions (which he jumps to and has to think hard to return), the Valley of Sound, and the Mountains of Ignorance to name a few. What he discovers on his travels in the Lands Beyond, is that all is not well in the Kingdom of Wisdom.  The Princess of Rhyme and Reason have been banished to the Castle in the Air by their brothers, the kings of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis.  With the absence of Rhyme and Reason, the kingdom is beset with the strivings of King Azaz and the Mathemagician.  Words or Numbers, which is better?  With his companions, Tock, the wise and practical watchdog, and the very silly Humbug, Milo sets out to rescue the princesses.

I think this is Norton Juster’s unveiled attempt to show the value of education and the delight you can have in the world around you. Kevin Smokler in his book, Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School, selected this book as one of his 50 classics.  Here’s what he had to say about this book: “The Phantom Tollbooth remains, over fifty years after its publication, an argument for brains over brawn, for Seas of Knowledge engulfing the Mountains of Ignorance. (p. 184)¹”  I agree.  Milo had to apply his learning and education to solve the problems in this book.

I discovered this wonderful book at the same time as my daughters.  We loved Milo’s funny, farfetched, and sometimes terrifying, adventures.  We loved this book full of puns and silly word play.  We chuckled all the way through the book.

As happens, the book and movie don’t line up exactly.  Nevertheless, it is a fun movie. It begins with a live action portion, with Butch Patrick, who played Eddie in the old sitcom The Munsters, as Milo.  Once Milo, drives through the tollbooth, the movie changes to animation, which was done under the direction of Chuck Jones.  You might remember him from the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons and one of my other favorite animations, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

If you are nerdy, like we are, you could download a graphic organizer to compare the book with the movie.  Here is a link to one on the site Teachers Pay Teachers: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/FREE-The-Book-vs-The-Movie-Graphic-Organizers-797677.  If you search the web, you can find plenty of them to use.

MyWordsDinnerThe feast

This is the portion of the blog that had me stumped for the longest time.  What did Milo eat while he was in the Lands Beyond?  He went to a dinner in Digitopolis with the Mathemagician and had several helpings of Subtraction Stew.  Unfortunately, he was hungrier when the feast ended than when it began.  I wouldn’t want to do that to you on a Friday night or any other one.

In Digitopolis, he went to a banquet given by King Azaz.  He tried ordering a light meal and a square meal, both not tasty as one was made of light and one was made of squares.  When asked to give a speech, he was interrupted by the King. A dinner of “Your majesty, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to say that in all…” is not a tasty dinner.  Milo was quite surprised that he would have to eat his words!

For this feast, I give you my words: “roasted green beans, garlic mashed potatoes, mini meatloaves, ice tea, and Sweep the Leg Peanut Butter Stout”.   If this meal doesn’t please you, you can eat your own words!

Mini Meat Loaves

Mini meat loaves are fun and they are terrific for portion control.  Cooking them in cupcake tins makes them cook quickly so dinner can be on the table before it gets too late! I like the recipe that appears on page 91 in Bobby Deen’s Everyday Eats. I like it, because it is easy to make and only takes about 35 minutes from beginning to end. I couldn’t reproduce it here for you, but I did find another similar recipe online “Deen Bros’ Speedy Mini Meat Loaves”: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Recipes/recipe?id=8516509.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Sorry to disappoint you, but I only make garlic mashed potatoes from scratch on major holidays.  For weeknights, I go with semi-homemade and purchase “Simply Potatoes Garlic Mashed Potatoes” from the refrigerated section of my local HEB.  I put these in a small casserole pan and they cook right along with the meat loaves.

Roasted Green Beans

I do make this one.  It is simple and very easy.  I cook them at 400° F for about 15 minutes, until they are slightly caramelized.  I slide the in the oven about 10 minutes after I put the meat loaves in the oven.  My recipe for Bobby Deen’s meatloaves call for them to be cooked at the same temperature (400° F) as the green beans. If you are using another recipe that cooks the meatloaves at a lower temperature, you may have to adjust the cooking time.

1 lb. French green beans
Lemon pepper to taste
Olive oil or Lemon olive oil

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.  Either spray the foil with olive oil cooking spray or lightly grease the pan with olive oil.  Arrange the green beans in a single layer on the tray.  Sprinkle the green beans with the lemon pepper and then drizzle them with either plain olive oil or lemon olive oil.  Slide these into the oven and roast as described above.

Norton Juster

This blog is already long, but I couldn’t leave you without a providing a little information on this author.  Here are a few basic things you might want to know.

  1. He was influenced by his father, who loved puns and word play².
  2. He was primarily an architect².
  3. Jules Feiffer became his illustrator by chance. Juster paced while he worked.  Feiffer lived below him, heard the pacing, and came upstairs to see what was going on².
  4. Norton wrote this book, when he was supposed to be writing a children’s book on cities².
  5. At the time it was published, people thought that it was not a children’s book as the vocabulary is too difficult. Here is a passage from an interview he did with NPR in October of 2011³.

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.

Here are some websites where you can read more about this author.

¹Smokler, Kevin. Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School. New York: Prometheus Books, 2013.

²http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/the-curious-world-of-norton-juster-7768624.html

³http://www.npr.org/2011/11/10/141240217/my-accidental-masterpiece-the-phantom-tollbooth

Arrow to the Sun – Happy July 4th

arrowsunMcDermott, Gerald.  Arrow to the Sun. New York: Puffin Books, 1974.

I know this is late, but Happy July 4th! Yesterday was the birthday of our nation.  We are fortunate to live in a country with a diverse population.  Our varied backgrounds, ancestry,  and stories combine to create a rich narrative for all of us.

The book I offer today, Arrow to the Sun is based on a Pueblo Indian tale.  According to the synopsis, “it is a retelling of how the Spirit of the Lord was brought the world of men”.

This is an exciting tale.  If I were a better storyteller, I would learn to tell this story. It would be a great one to share around a campfire. This book is a visual treat as well.  It has bright colors and stylized drawings based on the Pueblo Indian’s mythology.  I have enjoyed following the story with my eyes as well as my ears.

The Lord of the Sun sends his spark to the earth to a young Pueblo Indian maiden.  The Boy is born. He is rejected by his peers as his father is unknown.  He leaves home to seek his father.  A wise Arrow Maker recognizes the Boy and sees his connection to the Lord of the Son.  He offers his help and makes the boy into an arrow and shoots him to the sun.  The Boy meets the Lord of the Sun but must prove himself.  Find a copy of this book to read to a young friend or even for yourself.

Gerald McDermott

McDermott’s illustrations are dominated by bright, stylized forms, which often draw from indigenous art and highlight his fascination with the origins of stories!¹

I agree with this assessment of his work!  Here are some other interesting facts about this author.

  1. This author was a reader and artist from a young age.
  2. He had an avid interest in world mythologies.
  3. He was a film maker before he became an author. He made some of his films into books.
  4. He won the Caldecott Award for Arrow to the Sun in 1975. He also holds Caldecott Honors for Anansi the Spider (1973) and Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest (1994).

Here are some websites where you can discover more about this author.

  1. http://www.slj.com/2013/01/industry-news/gerald-mcdermott-a-legacy-of-magical-storytelling/#_
  2. https://www.booklistonline.com/Books-and-Authors-Talking-with-Gerald-McDermott-Nancy-J-Johnson/pid=3993803
  3. https://www.booklistonline.com/Books-and-Authors-Talking-with-Gerald-McDermott-Nancy-J-Johnson/pid=3993803
  4. http://www.academia.edu/12211133/Master_Artist_Master_Storyteller_An_Interview_with_Gerald_McDermott_Independent_Filmmaker_Author-Illustrator_of_Childrens_Books_

¹https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/55452-obituary-gerald-mcdermott.html

Reading Report for Northern, Central Texas: May 2017

May was beautiful. Look at what has been blooming this month.  May always seems like a busy month. The reading list is short.  I haven’t been able to keep up with our household reading this month!

Sarah

May is always a busy month for teachers.  Sarah still managed to finish a book and start a new one.

  • Harkness, Deborah.  A Discovery of Witches.  New York: Penguin, 2011.
  • Harkness, Deborah. Shadow of Night. New York: Penguin, 2013.

Alexis

I wasn’t quick enough to grab all of Alexis’ books before she returned them to the library.  Here’s her short list for the month.

  • Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (or Not) Getting by in America. New York: Orbit Books, 2002.
  • Knight, Jim. Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2015.
  • Ryan, Anthony. The Walking Fire. New York: Orbit Books, 2016.

 Jim

  • Krauss, Lawrence M. The Greatest Story Ever Told So Far: Why Are We Here? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.
  • Baxter, Stephen. Ultima. New York: Ace Books, 2016.

Robin

  • Chesterton, G.K. The Complete Father Brown Stories. Herefordshire, England: Wordsworth Classics, 1972.
  • Hearne, Kevin. Hounded. New York: Del Ray, 2011.
  • Juster, Norton. Illustrated by Jules Feiffer. The Phantom Tollbooth. New York: Scholastic, 1961.
  • Riordin, Rick. The Dark Prophecy. New York: Hyperion Books, 2017.

Armada

Cline, Ernest.  Armada. New York: Broadway Books, 2015.

I have lived near Austin for many years and have never attended the Texas Book Festival.  Every year, I think this is the year I will go.  Well 2017 was the lucky one! Last fall we drove down to Austin (shudder!), found the right parking garage near the Texas Capitol and attended the Texas Book Festival.  It was a dreary, misty day.  What the day lacked in ambiance, it made up with books and authors!  I bought some good ones!  I missed Ernest Cline’s presentation or panel at the festival, but I did manage to snap up this signed copy.

I have struggled to write this blog.  I am not a video game player so it has been difficult to focus on the points others might like to know about Armada. On the way home from the gym, I heard a story on the World Video Game Hall of Fame on the radio. I didn’t know there was one. Today they were announcing their 2017 video game inductees.  It was fate!  I had to complete this brief review on a book about a video game for you today.  I learned that these games are chosen on 4 criteria: Icon Status, Longevity, Geographical Reach, and Influence.  After reading this book, I wonder if Armada, the fictional video game of the book would meet these criteria?

As the book opens, we meet Zach Lightman, high school student, video store clerk, and an avid video game player.  When he is not in school or being tormented by the class bully, he is at the video story playing the online, multiplayer, flight simulator game Armada. He happens to be one of the best players in the world.  As he gazes out his classroom window, he sees a spaceship straight out of his video game zip across the horizon. Did he see it? Is he going crazy?  No one else seems to notice.

He isn’t crazy and that spaceship is real.  He isn’t playing a game, but has been training for the life-and-death alien attack some authorities fear is inevitable.  Read this book to find out how Earth got embroiled in this conflict.  Do they defeat the alien or are they defeated?

Cline has many nods to modern video game developers, movie makers, and other science fiction movies and books.  Most of that escaped my notice!  As I was reading, I thought of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. 

I think this would be an enjoyable read for a youthful student who lives for video games.

Ernest Cline

I just read his autobiography from his website.  It is one of the funniest I have read of late.  I like a guy who doesn’t take himself, too seriously.  Like many of the rest of us, he has been warped by his childhood, but managed to pull himself up and grow from a boy to an author.  Both his books Ready Player One and Armada have been optioned for movies. I liked both books.  They might make your average or above average video game player pick up a book and read.

About Ernest Cline

Reading Report from Northern, Central Texas: April 2017

This final day of April has been lovely here in my part of central Texas!  It started out gloomy and cool and has ended sunny and mild.  From my new blogging spot, I can see our backyard bathed in the late evening sunshine.  It is a lovely evening.

Can you believe that a full quarter of 2017 has sped by?  I can’t imagine where the time has gone.  I would have liked to have spent more time reading.

Jim

This book’s title looks interesting.  I need to get a copy for myself.  I will get him to write a guest post, when he finishes it.

  • Krauss, Lawrence M. The Greatest Story Ever Told So Far: Why Are We Here? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Sarah

Sarah had a little extra time for reading this month.  Here is a partial list for her and some of the comments she posted on Facebook about these books.

  • Wiles, Deborah. Countdown. New York: Scholastic, 2010.

So, my car is in the shop this week so no dance for me so I’ve been doing some extra reading. I started with this book, Countdown, and what a great read! It’s a historical fiction documentary type book that centers around the life of an 11-year old girl during the Cuban missile crisis.

“There are always scary things happening in the world. There are always wonderful things happening. And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to approach the world… how you’re going to live in it, and what you’re going to do.”

  • Lorenzi, Natalie Dias. Flying the Dragon. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2012

Yesterday’s book, Flying the Dragon, was a fun short read. The story focuses on two children Skye Tsuki and Hiroshi Tsuki.

Skye lives near Washington DC. Her mother is an American and her father is Japanese. She has never really explored or taken an interest in her Japanese heritage until she is forced to when her cousin Hiroshi’s family and her Grandfather move from Japan into the neighborhood.

Hiroshi loves living in Japan, he especially loves spending time with his grandfather who is a master kite maker and the rokkaku champion of their village. Hiroshi must now move to America with is family and encounters many challenges at school and at home.

  • Dauvillier, Loïc. Illustrated by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo. Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust. New York: First Second, 2012.

Hidden is a short book about a little girl who wakes up one night to find that her grandmother is recovering from a nightmare. When the little girl inquires about her grandmother’s dream she is told the story of her grandmother growing up as a little Jewish girl in France during WW2.

Alexis

As always, our most prolific reader.  Here are some of the books she read this month.

  • Griffith, Clay and Susan Griffith. The Shadow Revolution. New York: Del Rey, 2015.
  • Martin, Nancy. Dead Girls Don’t Wear Diamonds. New York: Signet, 2003.
  • Haines, Carolyn. Greedy Bones. New York: Minotaur, 2010.
  • Alt, Madelyn. No Rest for the Wiccan. New York: Berkley, 2008
  • Alt, Madelyn. Where There’s a Witch. New York: Berkley, 2009
  • Alt, Madelyn. A Witch in Time. New York: Berkley, 2011
  • Page, Katherine Hall. The Body in the Vestibule. New York: Avon, 1997.
  • Haydon, Elizabeth. Rhapsody. New York: Tor, 1999

Robin

This month I finally finished the first book of The New Sun by Gene Wolfe.  Considered a classic of science fiction, I am glad to have persevered through it.  At one point in my life, I might have liked this book, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought.  It puts me in mind of  Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan, also considered a classic, and I feel the same way about both books.  They are dark and dystopian.

  • Wiles, Deborah. New York: Scholastic, 2010.
  • MacAvoy, R.A. The Book of Kells. New York: Open Road, 1985.
  • Chesterton, G.K. The Complete Father Brown Stories. Herefordshire, England: Wordsworth Classics, 1972.
  • Cline, Ernest. Armada. New York: Broadway, 2015
  • Wolfe, Gene. Book of the New Sun (The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator). London: Orion, 1980, 1981.

Guest Post: Why Science Fiction as a Genre Is Important

Photo M81
M81 in Ursa Major / Astrophotgraph by James Reimund / San Gabriel Observatory

Back in November, when I wrote about The Paper Bag Princess,  I mentioned a post from Reading Rainbow titled “Raising Science Fiction Readers.” According to that post,

For young kids (and for many adults!) there is something irresistible about the combination of smart ideas, exploring new worlds, and escaping the boredom of everyday life. Science fiction and fantasy books are exciting! But the appeal of these books goes beyond mere excitement. Science fiction and fantasy stories make us feel strong and adventurous, and for many kids, these are some of the only worlds where they feel they fit in.

I find I like the out of the world experiences and thought-provoking ideas I have when I read science fiction.  For those reasons and others, I find science fiction to be an important genre.  My husband, Jim has his own ideas about why this genre is important.  He has detailed his ideas in this guest post.

Science fiction isn’t always considered high prose.  At least not in the sense of other types of literature such as poetry, satire, and morality stories.  These types of literature have been around for centuries and people know of their potential value and beauty.  They provide an elegant means of instruction.  Some literature tells instructional tales and provides warnings to people who might behave poorly or need life perspective.  I think of “Gulliver’s Travels” for the former and “Ozymandias” for the latter.  Anyway, literature can be a means of communicating about life and the human condition.

Science fiction is, in my opinion, no less a player on this stage.  In fact, I would argue that because of the fast pace of technological development, it is essential.  We now have capabilities that were unimaginable even 50 years ago.  The accrual of wisdom to use these new capabilities is usually a much slower proposition.  In order to have time to think about new possibilities and how they should be used requires thinking about them ahead of time.  Science fiction provides a means of attempting this.  Even if the technical details are fuzzy, the ramifications of new technologies can be thought about and discussed.  At the very least, a better set of questions can be thought up to help figure out the possible ramifications of new technologies.

Example:  “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

This novel predominately explores the effects of society when human reproduction is entirely controlled in such a way as to support the state.  Sex is dissociated from reproduction and reproduction is controlled in factories to provide the “correct” population mix of talents.  Consequences of this society are explored, including the necessity to have a “wild population” of humans in order to maintain a genetic mix so that all of humanity can’t be wiped out by disease because of limited genetic diversity in the “civilized” population.  How is this relevant now?

Today, genetics is very much more advanced than in 1931 when the book was written.  It is now possible to tinker with the genetics of the unborn (determine the sex, fix genetic issues, and clone).  No longer is it a stretch to think that humans could someday be “produced” ex-utero. So, for 85 years (book was actually published in 1932) we have had time to think about such reproductive issues and how power over this process could be used or misused.  Has advantage been taken of this time to examine and think about where our current genetic technology is taking us?  Possibly.  Today there is much ethical discussion around most technologies having to do with human reproduction.  Human cloning is no doubt possible (certainly other mammals have been cloned), yet there are prohibitions on this in most countries.

Other examples can be found for time travel, space exploration, and robots/artificial intelligence to name a few more.  As humanity is able to control ever more powerful forces such as energy and genetics, more and more thought must be applied to the wisdom of usage.  This is why the futuristic thoughts and themes of science fiction are important.

March 2017: Reading Report from Northern, Central Texas

March2017Greetings!

March was a very busy month!  The weather was mild and we spent extra time outside.  The whole of central Texas turned green.  It is always amazing to see the springtime transformation.  We had rain so the roadways are abundantly decorated with wildflowers.  You see Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush and a variety of yellow blooms almost everywhere you look.  In my yard, I have Anemones, Prairie Verbena, False Garlic and Yellow Evening Primrose.  It is a beautiful time of the year.  I spent much of my time working in my gardens to spruce them up for the coming year.  I was tired at the end of the day so my before bed reading time was diminished.  Despite the extra yard work, I was able to finish a good book or two.

Green Trees Texas
My backyard this afternoon.  Look at how green it is.

Robin

One of my favorites this month, was Newt’s Emerald.  It was written by Garth Nix.  Some of you may know him from his Old Kingdom Trilogy: Sabriel, Arbhorsen, and Lirael. Newt’s Emerald is a charming Regency romance, think Georgette Heyer.  How can you fail to love a character named Lady Truthful Newington, Newt to her family. It was fun to read.

  • Nix, Garth.  Newt’s Emerald.  New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2015.
  • Cho, Zen.  Sorcerer to the Crown.  New York: Ace Books, 2015.
  • Bujold, Lois McMaster. Pendric’s Mission.  New York: Spectrum Literary Agency, 2016 [eBook].
  • MacAvoy, R.A. The Book of Kells. New York, Open Road, 1985.
  • Chesterton, G.K. The Complete Father Brown Stories. Herefordshire, England: Wordsworth Classics, 1992.
  • Cline, Ernest.  Armada.  New York: Broadway Books, 2015.

Jim

  • Robinson, Kim Stanley.  2312. New York: Orbit, 2012
  • McDevitt, Jack.  Hercules Text. New York: Ace Books, 1986.

Jim invested several months in the book 2312. He wrote a guest post for this blog earlier this month [https://withagoodbook.wordpress.com/2017/03/19/guest-post-2312/] on this book.

Alexis

  • Nix, Garth.  Newt’s Emerald.  New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2015.
  • Knight, Jim.  Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring and Connected.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2016.
  • Connoly, Tina.  Seriously Wicked. New York: Tom Doherty & Associates Books, 2015.
  • Griffith, Clay and Susan Griffith. The Shadow Revolution. New York: Del Rey, 2015.