Jun 29, 2010

Summertime Reads: Half Magic Review

Summertime belongs to childhood. The grown-up version, with BBQs and yard work, can’t compare to the long, long days spent exploring and digging in the dirt.

Now, I’m a winter girl, through and through, but when the lightning bugs start to rise up out of the grass, I start to ache for the summers from when I was little. Unfortunately, all the kids who used to comeoutandplay have moved on, and I’ve been trying to eat less dirt, so I was at a loss for a way to revisit my summers.

Then I remembered Edward Eager. Eager was a Harvard grad and a sophisticated, grown-up playwright. He never thought about writing children’s books until he had his own son. They quickly read through Eager’s favorites, E. Nesbit’s fairy stories and the Oz books, but then Eager couldn’t find anything else to read to his kid. So he decided to write the stories himself. Writer’s perogative.

Half Magic is Eager’s first fairy tale. It’s about a group of four children, three girls and one boy, who recently lost their father. (Those unfortunate children who keep both their parents must resign themselves to utterly uninteresting lives.) Their mother can’t afford to take them to the country for vacation, and the kids are at a loss for a way to make their summer worthwhile. One day, while on their way to the library, the children find an old, worn nickel.

After a few accidental mis-wishes and much discussion, the kids realize that it’s the coin they found that’s causing the magic–well, a little magic. Somehow, because of the age and wear of the coin, it will only grant half of each wish.

The wishes,  done by halves, bring the kind of adventures you only find in proper fairy tales. They have rules and consequences and the adventure is in learning how to manipulate the magic. Each child gets a day in charge of the wishing, and each day of wishes gets a few chapters to play out.

Later on in the book, when the children understand the coin fully, the wishes get a bit boring–“I wish X times two” takes care of the guess work–but until then, there are several good mishaps. (My favorite is when they wish that the cat can talk. Have you ever met a cat who can half talk? That’s not a happy cat.)

So, if you need a way to rekindle your vacation time, check out Edward Eager’s books. (Read the first chapter of HM here.) They’re fast, funny, charming reads. Most of them take place over the course of a few warm days, and they’ll all bring you back to the time when lightning bugs were only a fraction of your summer magic.

Read if:

  • You’re looking for the most appealing way possible to spend an afternoon with fractions.
  • You can’t find anyone to play Ghost in the Graveyard with.
  • You want a proper fairy tale.

Disclaimer: I got this book and many others from my family’s close friend, Jeri. Every year for my birthday, Jeri would give me a big box of old books. (These would last me a couple of days, and then my reading habits would continue to be a financial burden for my parents, who raised me to buy books before food, and gladly kept me fed.) Jeri introduced me to lots of my favorites, and I’d be remiss not to mention her in a post about Edward Eager. If I didn’t give her credit, she’d threaten to tan my fanny.



  • I wish I was half the writer you are x2 😉

  • Shucks. 🙂

  • Ooh ooh! I’m so excited to read this! Summer is all about finding good books. I just read the first chapter and it’s already a perfect summer read. I’ve always loved “children’s” novels the most, more than any of the classics.

    Also, I agree with Melissa. “My parents, who raised me to buy books before food…” Haha! My mom thought the same way, but my dad was a bit more practical about the budget. So, my sister and I would always come back from the library with stacks of books the length of our torsos. Unfortunately, returning books on time was my mom’s strong point, so our late fees often could have bought us lots of books…

    Anyway. Thanks for the post. Love it!!

    • That’s why I had to stop borrowing books from the library. It was too easy to lose them and/or spill orange juice on them, and then I’d pay for the book anyway. Or, I’d end up taking the same books out several times, and then feeling all proprietary about them. How dare someone else read my book without asking?

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