Top 100 Children’s Novels #54: Half Magic by Edward Eager
Edward Eager writes the essential books about four children having a magical adventure. This one has a classic concept and brilliant working out. – Sondra Eklund
This is one of my own childhood favorites as well. And I’m happy to report that it remains popular to this day. A couple years ago we had a classroom of kids come into the children’s room. After I did my usual intro and such the kids were allowed to look for books. Suddenly they swarmed like fireants over the child who had said loudly from the fiction section, “Oh, SNAP! Edward Eager!” I am confident that this was the only time in history that those particular words were put in that order. Turned out that their teacher had been reading them Mr. Eager’s works in class. They were new and very receptive fans and I doubt very much that they are alone.
The plot, as American Writers for Children, 1900-1960 puts it is that, “four siblings find a magic talisman that grants their wishes, but only by halves. They engage in a variety of wild and funny adventures as each makes a wish, carefully worded to allow for the feature of half fulfillment. But when Jane wishes inadvertently for a fire, a playhouse burns, and when Martha thoughtlessly wishes the cat could talk, the semiarticulate feline engages in an exasperating flow of half-meaningless words. Cautiously Mark wishes for a desert-island adventure, but the four are almost kidnapped and able to escape only through use of the talisman. Romantic Katharine wishes for a jaunt through medieval times, in which she first rescues Sir Launcelot from a dungeon, then, finding him ungrateful, challenges him to single combat and soundly defeats him. In the end the children decide to pass on their talisman to two small children in another part of town.”
One of these days I’m going to hold a Children’s Literature Quiz night and some of the questions will involve guessing famous authors’ real names. For example, we all know Edward Eager, but I doubt that many of us would have necessarily known that his middle name was McMaken. Also, I think that many Eager fans have difficulty separating his words from the art of N.M. Bodecker. The “N.M.” stood for “Nils Mogens” by the way. There’s another quiz question for later.
For that matter, I wonder how many folks have just assumed that Eager was British? He wasn’t, y’know. Nope. Born and grew up in Toledo, Ohio he did. He died of lung cancer in 1964 at the age of fifty-three. And with this book, Eager began what he called the “daily magic” series. Strangely enough, that moniker has never really caught on. We just call them the Edward Eager books, don’t we? He wrote seven altogether, and only one (The Well Wishers) was in the first person. And his biggest influence (though he did love his Oz books) was E. Nesbit. You can see it if you read books like The Phoenix and the Carpet or Five Children and It. Both Nesbit and Eager were fans of grumpy magic and grumpy magical creatures.
I was always inordinately pleased with the crossover moments within these books. I loved that the kids in this book would return in Magic By the Lake and then later their children would rescue them in The Time Garden. No other author ever really played with time like Edward Eager.
- You can read some of the book here, if you like.
In a review in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review, it says that ” Many American children who are not in the least lured by Mrs. Nesbit, or even Alice , will find this the sort of fantasy they do like.”
The Times Literary Supplement said of it, “”For his character drawing, no praise can be too high.”
More covers than I would have initially suspected:
Like I say, I usually don’t include homemade videos, but this one . . . well, ya gotta love the originality.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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