The Lost Track of Time, by Paige Britt (Scholastic Press, March 31, 2015, middle grade), pretty much begs to be compared to The Phantom Tollbooth--both are didactic-ish books about travel to magical lands full of pun fantasy. However, I never much liked The Phantom Tollboth, so I shall simply say that I enjoyed The Lost Track of Time more, perhaps because I could more easily relate to its young heroine and her struggle to find the time to do what makes her happy--writing.
Unfortunatly for Penelope, writing is not something her uber-organized mother values. Her mother is a professional Planner, with a deep sense that every minute of the day must be used Usefully. Useful things are those that prepare Penelope for college applications and a well-paid job. Useless things include sleeping late, doing nothing in particular, and writing. Penelope hopes that if she can prove that writing is valuble by winning a competition for best story her mother will give her more time in which to do it....but to her dismay, the ideas that have been filling her mind for as long as she can remember suddenly aren't coming anymore!
Thanks to a page turning glitch, Penelope finds that she has a blank day in the planner her mother keeps for her, with nothing planned for her to do...and she falls into this hole in her schedule, ending up in a magical world! There she finds that world's people caught in similary cirumstances--the greatest creator of imagined possibilities (very real things in this world) is missing, and Chronus has established a regimented clockwork dictatorship. Accompanied by a semi-fugitive adventurer named Dill, Penelope sets out to recover not only her own ability to come up with ideas, but to come up with some possibility of overthrowing Chronus....
Tolerance for puns made real is required (fancies, for instance, are real creatures who appreciate being tickled), and no new and stunning fantasy ground is broken here. But I found Penelope's journey and its impetus rather satisfying, and I bet that it will please many young readers who feel they don't have the time to spend doing what they want to! Penelope is a pleasing heroine, whose actions and desires make sense, and this grounding in the believable carries the story along nicely.
I do think that it is one that might find more readers if it is read aloud by grown-ups (it's the sort of handsome, generously illustrated, kind of old fashioned looking book, that grandparents might be drawn to buy as a gift) and one that will work better for younger readers than for magic-sword-danger fantasy readers.
Here's another review at Ms. Yingling Reads. And Kirkus reviewed it favorabley as well (though that reviewer said it was "not as masterful as Juster’s genre-defining work" which I at first read as "genre-defying" causing me great confusion......and I'm actually not sure I agree that P.T. is "genre-defining" unless "fantasy based on puns" is a genre....)
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.