on August 23, 2000
I first read Half Magic when I was seven, courtesy of the El Segundo Public Library, and twenty years later, I still love it. My abiding love of children's literature probably began right here, in a book that has everything - plot, humor, intelligence, and fabulous characters.
Half Magic obeys the rules of great magic books that are carefully delineated by the main characters in the first chapter. (See what I mean about intelligence and wit?) The magic has its own rules, which they must discover. They thwart the magic. Then the magic thwarts them. If it's a formula, it's one Edward Eager developed, and it works - you don't want to stop reading, from King Arthur's court to a highly magical ending. (And I have no intention of telling you where that is.)
Even though the plot is exceptional, it's the characters that truly make the book. The four children are clearly *people* - it's easy to imagine meeting them on the street or in a park - and not merely characters on a page. And even though the book is set in the 1930s, and was written in the 1950s, the kids still resonate. We all know, or were, Martha - "Martha was the youngest, and very difficult." Likewise with Jane and Katherine. "Katherine *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 first book in Eager's loosely-intertwined series is a masterpiece of children's literature. Children and adults alike will love Half Magic. Start here - and remember, to read one is to want them all.
(NB: the quotes used here came from my memory - I checked them before I submitted the review, of course - and normally my memory is not the best. That should tell you something about the strength of this book, or at least the impression it made on me.)
on May 26, 1998
Like all the other reviewers, I too read this book when I was 9 or 10 and then worked my way through the other 6 titles. I loved them all so very much that I read them again and again. Before I had reached my teens, they were like old and very dear friends. However, here in the UK, they've been out of print for quite some time and it looked as if my hope of owning my own set was never to be. As a librarian, I've frequently come across very old and battered copies of Half Magic in several Children's Libraries but about 10 years ago, I had the best piece of luck. I was working in a (nameless) library in Central London and came across a complete set in a store room as part of an out-of-print collection. I avidly fell upon them all and renewed old aquaintances with the children I'd thought of as my friends. When that collection was broken up for sale/pulping, I was given the 7 Edward Eager books for my own. Since then, I've read them to my own children. They are more than stories, they are part of me. Edward Eager had a huge gift; in a few words, he could paint a detailed picture with warmth, humour and clarity. His children are real and believable. The situations are zany and so funny and the magic that underpins everything is the same magic that lives in the readers' hearts and minds for ever. What a nice man he must have been. I wish I'd known him.
So this is what Dr. Eager did in his spare time. If Half Magic is indicative of his bedside manner, he must have been a very good doctor indeed. For this is one of those sleepy time read-in-bed books like the Chronicles of Narnia, that gently draw you into their fantastic world at that drowsy time when good things seem so much more possible and you're about to drift off into the Land of Nod.
Half Magic is written in that wonderful, light, easy 'fifties style that gets so easily overlooked in favor of more extreme excitements. Later discovered, though, one simply wonders how writing could have ever been this good. A wonderfully understated example is shown in the genial attitude of the good samaritan stranger who helps out the young adventurers. He's first respectful of their mother,then falls more and more in love as the book goes on. This undercurrent is so subdued and tasteful that it's barely noticeable amid the magical misadventures until the conclusion of the book.
The Leave it to Beaver approach to problem solving is also delighfully refreshing--the spells only half work; unlike the obvious fantasy formulae in countless later books and movies, the magic leaves plenty of room for human ingenuity and skill,as well as the need to make decisions. Eager's other great fantasy, Knight's Castle, also continues in this vein, the hyjinks and hilarity deriving from,and always affirming,the human.
on October 20, 1999
Half Magic may have been my favorite book as a kid -- I knew then what I loved about it, but it was only when I reread it as an adult that I realized just how much the book had given to me. Half Magic is a book of fantasy about real kids who play and argue and fight. They're good solid kids who know the difference between right and wrong. Edward Eager's style is matter-of-fact, succinct and hilarious. All of this I loved as a kid (and still do). But there's something else at work in Half Magic, aside from a terrific plot about a magic coin that grants half of your wishes, in its own inimitable way. The children in Half Magic have no father, and one of the strands of the plot has to do with a "rather small gentleman" who befriends the children and may wind up becoming their stepfather. Jane, the oldest child, will have nothing of it, telling her siblings "Everything's just spoiled, that's all!". A few paragraphs later, Eager gently explains: "She felt awful inside, the wy you always do when you've been perfectly hateful to those you love best, and she didn't even know why she had done it. She didn't know why the mere thought of Mr. Smith upset her so -- or if she did kow the reason, she didn't want to admit it, even to herself. But the thing was that Jane was the only one of the four children who really remembered their father." As it happens, I was the youngest child in a family where the father died at a young age. I think that when I first read Half Magic, I was simply pleased to have something in common with the heroes of the book. It was when I read the book to my own kids that I realized how simply, and how truly, Eager captured the emotions of children who need to come to terms with loss. And this in the framework of a rollicking, funny book.
on August 3, 2010
Mostly, I love this book. I liked it as a kid (except for that caveat I'll get to in a minute). I like it now, as a grown-up. The story is interesting and engaging. The trouble the kids get themselves into is believable (well, for a fantasy novel...!), and I like their solutions. The problem of having to double all your wishes is interesting to me. The only thing is...
The only thing is that a whole chapter is taken up with a trip to a desert, where the children run across an evil, wicked, terrible Arab man. Even the illustration is an ugly caricature. There isn't even a feasible way to avoid this part - it's interwoven in the story in such a way that you can't simply say "Look, this is a part that I feel is inappropriate, we're not reading it today" and skip to the next part.
Now, I know, somebody is going to pop up and say "But you can't judge books from 60 years ago according to OUR standards today!" Fair enough. But I'm not reading this book to a child 50 years ago. I'm reading it (or not, actually - I haven't put it on my to-be-read list yet precisely because of this problem) to children NOW. Even when I was a kid, a mere 30 years after the book's publication, that part made me uncomfortable.
Am I saying you're bad for liking this book? Absolutely not. I like this book! Am I saying you shouldn't read this book to your children, or allow them to read it? Not necessarily. I certainly support you if that is your choice, but that's not what I mean to say. All I'm saying is that you should read this book yourself before you read it with your children (or use it in a classroom, especially if you have Arab students!), and decide for yourself the best way to approach this issue. It may be to find a way to skip that passage, or it may be to not read the book just yet (or at all - there are plenty of good books out there, choosing one always requires NOT-choosing another!) or it may be to discuss this part with your children and explain your views on the subject, or it may be that you think it's not a big deal. (I disagree with the last, but that's your choice.)
Other than that one thing, this is a very good book. It's just that that one thing is SO important. Please pre-read this book.
on September 24, 2004
Siblings Jane, Mark, Katharine, and Martha don't suspect anything out of the ordinary when Jane finds a nickel on the sidewalk and takes it home. After all, money is money. However, Jane soon realizes that the nickel isn't really a nickel, but rather a strange coin. A magical coin. For when Jane, who along with her brother and sisters, is having the most boring summer ever makes a wish, half of it is granted. It is soon found out that the mysterious coin grants wishes, but only by halves, so you have to wish for twice as much as you really want. While many of the wishes turn out just fine, some of them have caused nothing but trouble, in both the children's lives, as well as the lives of many people in present time and history, and it's the fault of the strange coin itself.
Edward Eager has created an enjoyable fantasy novel that is sure to please the middle readers both of today, and yesterday. Filled with four characters who all hold their own quirks, and possess sassy tongues, as well as vivid imaginations, who will easily be loved by readers young and old. And let's not forget the enchanting green and white illustrations littered throughout the novel, that will capture the imaginations of all. HALF-MAGIC is an absolute must have!
Book Review Columnist for The Community Bugle Newspaper
on August 23, 1998
I first read this book when I was 10, after I read a review of it in Zillions Magazine. Now I'm 13, I've checked the library's copy out at least 6 times, have 2 copies of my own (one original, one paperback), read most of Eager's books at least 3 times, and own most of them,too, but Half Magic is still my favorite. The story is exciting, funny, and a little complicated the first time around. My favorite part is when Jane wishes she were in another family, and she becomes Iphegenia, the little comfort. I love the pictures, too. I draw my own comic strip, and the illustrations are such an inspiration! Thank You!!!:)
on July 1, 2007
These days, when so many of us are reading the Harry Potter books, it may be good to remember some of the more classic fantasy tales of a couple of generations ago. Yes, one could try "Peter Pan" and all the Oz books, but there were a bunch of other books such as this one which I think were excellent as well.
I think that "Half Magic" is about right for kids around eight or so. The language is about right for children (the toughest line for a really young reader might be "whence do you hail?"). And it is simply a charming little book. We get to read about a talking cat, visits to faraway places, and maybe best of all, a person who is not exactly all there.
I highly recommend this book. Of course, it's supposed to be only for kids. We grownups are supposed to be way past reading this sort of thing. And if we did read it, we probably wouldn't admit it. But some kids will still recommend this book to their grandmothers, and I think they're right to do so.
Edward Eager's books provide the imaginative spark lacking in many heavily promoted children's books published in recent times. In each of his "magic" stories, unusual things happen to ordinary children, and in this story, it is the discovery of a magical coin that leads four children to the best summer of their lives.
As the title implies, the coin grants wishes, but only half of what you wish comes true. The children discover this the hard way, and learn how to make the most of their find through trial and error. This chronicle of their adventures will spark the imagination of young readers, and for adult readers, there are many literary allusions and humorous situations.
This may have been written in the 1950's, but it remains fresh and imaginative today.
Amanda Richards, March 21, 2006
on December 29, 1999
I first read Half Magic at the age of 11. I was swept away by the magic, the humor, and the thought that just perhaps one day I would find a magic coin, too. Over the years I have recommend this book to many young people. It is a wonderful book for parents to read with their children. The four bored children in the book soon find a summer full of adventure and magic. Full of surprises, some history and definitely adventure. Every once in awhile I find myself rereading Half Magic just to bring back a little bit of my youth. A copy of Half Magic is a must for your children's library.