Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth was the first chapter book I read to my daughter. She’s a teenager now, but I know she still picks it up from time to time for a quick return to The Lands Beyond with our old friends Milo and Tock. (Yes, I do too, even something close to three decades after I first discovered the book myself.)
Which is why, even though we’re both pretty well outside the target audience for The Odious Ogre, Juster’s first team-up with Tollbooth illustrator Jules Feiffer in almost half a century, Kelsey and I jumped at the chance to check it out.
Odious Ogre falls definitely in the kids’ picture-book camp, so while it doesn’t invite direct comparisons to Juster and Feiffer’s classic, it’s hard not to be reminded of the things that made Tollbooth magic. Juster’s storytelling style and lively wordplay are still familiar and fun, and Feiffer’s illustrations manage the same awesome trick of being minimal in execution while creating the feel that there’s a whole world behind them, just off the page’s edge.
As you might guess from the title, the book’s about an ogre, the village he terrorizes, and a lone voice in a strange sort of opposition. It’s not a long book, so that’s really as far as I want to go in describing the story itself, but suffice it to say the tale definitely comes with Juster’s unique twist on traditional fairy tale adventures and his gift for life lessons presented in odd and sometimes bittersweet ways.
I loaned the book to my brother to share with his oldest son, who just started kindergarten, to get another dad’s perspective, too. They enjoyed the story and found it age-appropriate as well, though he said my nephew had some questions about a few of the turns the book takes – which strikes me as a feature, not a bug, since it means there’s room for more understanding and a deeper enjoyment of the book as he gets older and reads it on his own.
In some ways, The Odious Ogre actually feels like it could be a chapter within The Phantom Tollbooth, and in that sense, even though I know it’s meant to be a short picture book for young readers, it left me feeling like I wanted more. (In fact, not only am I now planning to re-read Tollbooth very soon, I’ve also just found out about Juster’s The Dot and The Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, so I’ve added that to my to-read list as well.) On the other hand, it also means parents now have a chance to introduce Juster and Feiffer to their kids at an even earlier age, and that’s a great thing as far as I’m concerned.
Disclosure: Scholastic provided GeekDad with a review copy of The Odious Ogre.