by Edward Eager
illustrated by N.M. Bodecker
50th Anniversary edition
Ages 9-12, all ages
Published by: Harcourt Children's Books;(October 1, 2004)
Summer usually manages to exercise its magic on childhood. Long, lazy days, each opening with a promise of adventure, ending with dirt and grime getting scrubbed off in preparation for the next day...
These were the memories Edward Eager's Half Magic evoked in me as I read it to my six year old recently, while internally bemoaning the bygone days, wondering what sort of memories my daughter will accumulate of her summers.
A predictably dull summer vacation turns upside down for the siblings Jane, Mark, Katherine and Martha when Jane finds a nickel on the sidewalk. Or what she thought was a nickel - a coin, by accident. A simple concatenation of circumstances makes her realize that this coin grants wishes. Oh, but there is a catch. There is always a catch with magic. This particular coin only grants half the wish as the children find out through a few mis-wishes and lots of deduction and discussion.
To be fair, they decide to take turns. Only one can be in charge of the wishing for that day. And thus starts a series of mishaps and adventures. The children learn quickly enough to phrase their wishes carefully to outwit the magic and get what they want and not rustle up more trouble. Not an easy task considering there are rules and consequences to magic.
They manage to time travel to King Arthur's days and almost change history when they meddle with the life of Sir Launcelot. And that's where they learn (hopefully) to be more careful what they wish for.
After midway through the book, it gets a little predictable as the children have figured out to wish for twice as much as they want so the magic would do half of that and leave them with exactly what they want. But, that does not in any way affect our interest in the events that unfold.
Ana particularly liked the half-talking cat, wispy gossamer Martha, and of course Iphigenia aka She-who-was-no-longer-Jane. I liked Iphigenia part of the story as well, when Jane makes a terrible wish in a rush of emotion declaring she wished she belonged to another family. Of course, Jane doesn't get into the sort of ideal family she pictured she'd rather belong to and things go awry, but, therein lies the catch. One cannot have the cake and eat it too.
There is considerable drama in their real lives, even without the magical interludes. Their dislike for Miss. Bick, their suspicion of Mr. Smith, their mom's hectic life working at a newspaper, not to mention their own sibling quibbling, all add up to a wonderfully rich human dimension to this story. I particularly liked the fact that the children in Half Magic loved reading books.
A Harvard graduate, Edward Eager didn't set out to write children's books until he had a son. Apparently, not finding any good books to read to his child, he decided to write some of his own.
Half Magic was published in 1954. The language and the settings make it all the more charming. An excerpt from Chapter 1 is available here.
The caveat of course is that there are some minor aspects of the book that I believe do not fit today's world as the book was written over 50 years ago. Nothing major, nothing terribly offensive. With that in mind, I do some run-time edits as I read to my daughter.
After many chapter book series, mostly recent publications tailored for six year olds, be it realistic fiction or fantasy, I have been rediscovering some classics for us to read together. I was looking for something different, something with magic, something challenging for her blossoming language skills. And discovered E.Nesbit and Edward Eager. There are seven books by Edward Eager about children and magic. We are hoping to work our way through them all.
[image source: wired.com]