A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although Half Magic was first published in 1954, it's a timeless classic that feels fresh and funny for modern readers. The children are largely left in the care of a no-nonsense nanny because their mother works long hours and their father died years ago. The family is presented with great affection, including the hardworking, lovable mother and her considerate suitor. There's a bit of cartoonish violence, particularly a scene where three fighting knights simultaneously behead each other. There's also unpleasant stereotyping involving an Arab man who tricks the children and mutilated spoken Chinese, but that scene is resolved with the children becoming empathetic to the man's situation and seeking a respectful, compassionate outcome for him.
What's the story?
For siblings Jane, Mark, Katharine, and Martha, summer is fairly dull aside from trips to the library. One day Jane finds an old coin, then irritably wishes for something exciting to happen -- and it does. The children soon realize they possess a magic charm that grants half of what they wish for. Sometimes carefully, and sometimes recklessly, they find themselves transported on adventures both thrilling and terrifying -- in a Middle Eastern desert, among King Arthur's knights, and even in their own neighborhood. Wishes are tricky things, they discover, and even the most thoughtful, generous wish has a way of backfiring horribly. Only by working together as a family can they set things right.
Is it any good?
This magical tale is full of thrilling adventure but it's the well-developed characters -- four siblings, their mom, and a newcomer in their lives -- who hook the hearts of generations of readers. Though Edward Eager fashioned HALF MAGIC in admiration of E. Nesbit, his quick-moving story weaves its own enchantment. He delves into the complicated heart of family relationships with an affectionate twinkle in his eye, exploring familial love and aggravation with a generous sprinkle of fantasy.
The marvelous adventures in the desert sands, jousting with Launcelot, or dealing with an irritated talking cat are delightful on their own, but the story is really about cooperation and compromise, reconciling your dreams with the needs and wishes of those around you, and having the courage and sense to recognize your missteps and try to make things right. Solid lessons for all ages, and delivered in a wonderfully fun story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of stories about children and magical adventures. How does this book compare with similar stories you've watched or read?
Does this story, first published in 1954, feel dated in any way? Can you relate to these children and their family?
Katharine says the charm "certainly does improve people, once they've been through the mill of it." What does she mean by that?
- Author: Edward Eager
- Illustrator: N.M. Bodecker
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: March 31, 1999
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 7 - 10
- Number of pages: 208
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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