Now that Katie has had her say, it’s time for my half of the review 🙂
Half Magic proved to be a pretty quick read and it was much more than half satisfying. I was mistaken when I described it a couple of posts ago as a story about some kids in the 1950s – the book was published in the 50s, but the setting is “about 30 years ago”, so obviously, more like the 20s, which fits, since they mention that riding in a car was something of a novelty for some people. One of our commenters mentioned that in her experience, some kids find this story old fashioned, but I didn’t feel that way at all. What I did find was that it was refreshingly uncomplicated for a story about magic. (But then again, maybe I’m old fashioned).
The story begins with four siblings facing what promises to be a long, uneventful summer vacation. One paragraph pretty much sums up their situation:
“The children never went to the country or a lake in the summer, the way their friends did, because their father was dead and their mother worked very hard on the other newspaper, the one almost nobody on the block took. A woman named Miss Bick came in every day to care for the children, but she didn’t seem to care for them very much, nor they for her. And she wouldn’t take them to the country or a lake; she said it was too much to expect and the sound of the waves affected her heart.”
So, clearly, nothing extraordinary is likely to happen to them. And they themselves are quite ordinary, as siblings go:
“Jane was the oldest and Mark was the only boy, and between them they ran everything.
Katharine was the middle girl, of docile disposition and a comfort to her mother. She knew she was a comfort, and docile, because she’d heard her mother say so. And the others knew she was, too, by now, because ever since that day Katharine would keep boasting about what a comfort she was, and how docile, until Jane declared she would utter a piercing shriek and fall over dead if she heard another word about it. This will give you some idea of what Jane and Katharine were like.
Martha was the youngest, and very difficult.”
Sounds like a lot of kids I’ve known (or been). And posh vacations aside, the summer will still be satisfying because this is a family of readers, so they look forward to lots of library books – and their extensive reading is no doubt where they learned the skills to so quickly adjust to the interesting things that begin to happen to them. It all begins when Jane calls dibs on a “nickel” that she spies on the sidewalk and chucks into her pocket.
A couple of odd things happen as they walk home, and they don’t think much of it until something odd happens to their mother when she borrows the nickel from the top of Jane’s dresser – but does not spend it. After a couple more odd happenings, Jane sees all and shares it with her siblings – the “nickel” is actually some sort of ancient talisman (clearly marked with runes that anyone can recognize as ancient and magical – no need to translate) that grants half of any wish – and I mean any wish – time travel, creation of something from nothing – anything, but only halfway.
For example, if you simply wish you were on a desert island, you might end up in the desert, but not on an island. If you wish you weren’t there (wherever it is you are), you may end up looking sort of like a ghost. And if you wish your cat could talk, you get something very funny indeed. These clever children quickly figure out the math involved to get whole wishes (wish for twice as much) and set out on their adventures, each getting a turn – but they wish sparingly, keeping in mind that the magic may wear out.
I love the magic in this book because it is so simple, yet all-encompassing. One simple rule to follow and off you go. Edward Eager doesn’t spend a lot of time educating us on the ins and outs of this magical coin – and that works just fine. Without understanding anything about the space-time continuum, the children quickly learn that time travel is tricky and is best avoided. They learn not to wish hastily because of potentially disastrous results.
In the course of their adventures, they grow to appreciate real-life wonders and to be on the lookout for people who might need a little special magic in their lives. All in all, this is a lovely story for introducing young children to the idea of magic breaking in on the normal everyday lives of normal everyday kids.
And it’s nice to know these kids keep on experiencing magic, and their children after them, throughout the rest of Edward Eager’s Tales of Magic series (Knight’s Castle, Magic by the Lake, The Time Garden, Magic or Not?, The Well-Wishers, Seven-Day Magic).
Now on to My Father’s Dragon – another new one for both of us.
Number of pages: 192
Date of publication: 1954
Story time and setting: “About 30 years ago” – so, sometime in the 1920s.
First line: “It began one day in summer about 30 years ago, and it happened to four children.”
Main characters: Jane (the oldest), Mark (the only boy), Katharine (the middle sister) and Martha (the youngest)
Amazon.com Best Sellers rank: 17,310
Reading age level: 8 and up
Emotional/Maturity level: A nice introduction to magic happening to everyday kids. Some unnerving things happen, but nothing too scary. The math skills needed to figure out the proper way to wish is simple. Provides some good lessons about wishing things willy-nilly.