My fifth grade language arts teacher was a god of a man named Robert Upchurch. I think he was all of 23 years old, straight out of the Ivy League and ready to recreate scenes from Dead Poets Society in every class. (He also rapped about prepositions for an entire class period one time.)
Mr. Upchurch was beautiful (I have a feeling he still is--he’s one of those Harrison Ford/George Clooney types that is going to keep getting better with age) and could pull off a bow tie like no other man I’ve met since could. To this day, some of my favorite books I’ve ever read are ones that were 5th grade required reading. Mr. U built the foundation of my grammar skills, turned me into a book lover, and inspired me to be an English teacher. And he was HAWT.
One of the books he read out loud to us was Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. I still keep my 5th grade copy on the bookshelf in my bedroom to flip through from time to time. The story follows Milo, a boy “who didn’t know what to do with himself--not just sometimes, but always” as he travels through the Kingdom of Wisdom.
Mr. U encouraged us to write in our books, a habit I continue to have, so my little fifth grade notes in perfect penmanship are all over this book. My favorite note is on the inside of the front cover. It reads: Pun=play on words. Under that, I drew a P with a circle around it as a key for myself throughout the book to make notes when I ran across a pun.
The book has a map of the Kingdom of Wisdom,
along with beautiful illustrations by Jules Feiffer (this is Milo with the beautiful princesses, Rhyme and Reason):
Sure, it’s a kids book, but having read it again at 30, the book inspired me even more than it did when I was 10. Milo’s story is not unlike yours or mine--after all, we’re all trying to find our purpose/the mean of life, right? As a writer, it’s humbling to read something so beautifully crafted and edited, and the idea that I’ll get to share this book with my children in a few years makes my heart happy.
Here’s one passage that I’ve read a million times and never tire of reading:
As he and his unhappy thoughts hurried along (for while he was never anxious to be where he was going, he liked to get there as quickly as possible) it seemed a great wonder that the world, which was so large, could sometimes feel so small and empty.
This is, of course, at the beginning of Milo’s journey, and I’ll let you find out where he goes from there.