The Lonely Phone Booth (Review)
Updated: Nov 21
Author: Peter Ackerman
Illustrator: Max Dalton
Publisher: David R. Godine, 2010
Interest Level: Ages 4 - 8
Reading Level: N/A Retail: $16.95, hardcover
Summary: A phone booth in New York City is used by lots of people until they start turning to cell phones instead. Unused and abandoned, the phone booth is about to be carted to the dump when a storm causes the wireless networks to be overloaded. Grateful city residents scramble to use the pay phone again and go on to campaign for its preservation as an historical landmark.
This doesn't look like your usual history book for kids, but this is exactly the type of picture book to introduce big concepts like historic preservation to young children. The anthropomorphized phone booth the main character (it thinks but doesn't talk), and a very sympathetic one. Children may relate to its feelings of loneliness at times. The cast of neighborhood residents who use it is diverse and intriguing, and there is a smattering of humor in the illustrations to keep the story light.
As children in this generation grow older, they will see many pieces of technology rendered obsolete. This book reminds readers young and old that some of the most "old fashioned" aspects of our lives are also the most reliable. It also shows how reliant our society is on communication networks. Peter Ackerman's text is easy to read aloud. It is simple, but incorporates a few rare words (e.g., flabbergasted) to enrich the listening experience and build vocabulary. Max Dalton uses an urban color palette but the illustrations have a lot of movement and emotion. There drawing style has a mid-20th century modern retro feel.
I would have loved to see non-fiction endnotes about the phone booth in question and the overall history of telephones. I'm left wondering if this phone booth really exists and how many others might have been saved as historical landmarks.
My only other (minor) bone to pick is the unnecessary detail of the Girl Scout having a pink phone. We really need to move away from casually throwing around gendered stereotypes. It added nothing to the story line.
This book would make an excellent read aloud to preschoolers and early elementary students. It would be incorporated into a curriculum about changing technology in society for children at the older end of the age range. It also makes an endearing home read-aloud.