Half Magic by Edward Eager

May 2, 2013

Let's begin this review with a question: Is Half Magic a well-known children's classic or not?

I ask this because I have been mulling over the answer for weeks...not in a it's-keeping-me-awake-at-night sort of way (I have other worries to fill that time with), but more just a here-and-there, every-now-and-again, as-I-hear-it-mentioned-or-read-about-it sort of way.

For example, it came in at #31 on Fuse #8's Top 100 Children's Novels Poll, which led me to think, Okay, definitely a children's classic. But then recently, it's come up in conversations with several of my (as I would define them) "well-read" friends, and they've never even heard of it, so, Children's classic? Maybe not.

I, myself, was familiar with the title because my brothers had read it, but I had not actually read it.

So if you wouldn't mind weighing in ("Yes I know this children's novel" or "No I've never heard of it"), I might finally be able to find some closure regarding this book and get some sleep!

Because I was having a hard time deciding where it fell on the "much-beloved children's novels" continuum, I decided to give it a read myself so I would at least know where it fell for me. And I thought a little company might be nice, so I read it aloud to the boys.

The story begins on a beautiful summer's day. Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha are hoping their summer will be full of adventure, but so far, it hasn't looked too promising. That all changes when Jane finds a "nickel" on the sidewalk. Within minutes of picking up the coin, strange things begin happening, and the children soon figure out that Jane didn't pick up an ordinary nickel but a magical charm that grants wishes--but only halfway. (For example, before she realizes the coin is magic, she wishes for there to be a fire just to add a little excitement to their day. Within seconds they hear the fire siren wailing as firemen rush to put out a small fire (a "half" fire, if you will) on a little playhouse.) For an entire week, the children have adventure after adventure, with many disasters and mishaps and mistakes. But in the end, their very last wish is granted exactly as they wanted.

I probably should have skimmed this book a little bit more before starting it with Aaron and Max. It was a fun book for sure, but it was a little advanced and complicated, especially for Max who just turned three. It was pretty obvious after reading just a few pages that it was a little beyond them, so we could have switched to another book right then, but I didn't, and here's why: I could tell they were enjoying certain parts even if they were zoning out in other places; also, they weren't begging to stop--in fact, sometimes Aaron wanted me to keep reading--so I knew they weren't hating it; plus, it was introducing some fun new ideas and concepts. So we kept going, and I'd say the farther we got, the more we enjoyed it.

Still though, be aware that there were some things that made this a difficult story for the 3-4 year-old crowd, such as:
  • Long chapters - we're talking like 30-40 pages. It was impossible for us to get through so long a chapter in one sitting, but it was also difficult to stop in the middle since there usually wasn't a great stopping place. This meant that when we picked it back up, I had to remind them of everything that had already happened (which turned out not to be a bad thing since they needed the summaries and explanations anyway).
  • Very sparse pictures - within those 30-40 pages, there was only one picture (plus the one at the head of the chapter). No exceptions. One picture. For the most part, Aaron and Max do pretty well with just a few pictures, but I know that for this story, they would have preferred a higher ratio of picture to words.
  • Concept of half - unfortunately, the idea of taking something (whether it be location, person, or time) and and slicing it in half was a major part of the story (it is called Half Magic, after all). But a three-year-old has a difficult time understanding what it means to eat half of an apple, much less how you make a person disappear by half or give a cat the ability to half-talk. This was a bit of a disappointment for me just because this was one of the most clever aspects of the story, and for the most part, except when I stopped and explained it, it went right over their heads.
I think the hardest chapter for them (and for me, too) was the one where the children end up in Medieval times fighting Sir Launcelot. For one thing, the Old English language was a little tricky for them to grasp, plus it just seemed a little slow with lots of jumping around (but that could have had less to do with the actual plot of the chapter and more to do with the fact that it took us probably five different occasions to finish this chapter).

Our favorite chapter was the one where Martha wishes she wasn't there (at the movie theater) and ends up as a mere wispy outline of herself. (I think it helped that there were robbers in that chapter. Aaron and Max always perk up with robbers around.) A close second for me was the chapter where Jane wants a different family.

Personally, I loved the ending. It was just the right mix of wrapping up the old and unwrapping the new, getting the reader ready for a whole new set of adventures. (For those who have read them, I'd love to hear how the other Half Magic books hold up to this one?).

Even though this was a book we liked, it is one I think we will love in another four or five years. And going back to my original question, maybe just the fact that it is a book that would definitely be worth rereading helps to qualify it as something of a classic. What do you think?

P.S. I am sharing this post at The Children's Bookshelf.


  1. Yes! Definitely a classic. It's just that so many people these days aren't reading children's classics.

    I'm so glad you enjoyed it and I do hope you return to it in a few years. When I read it as a child, I think I too was just a little young for it - it felt slow to me too. Now, though, it's one of my all-time favorite children's book. And if you can believe it, it's surpassed by the sequel, Magic By the Lake, so I hope someday you get a chance to try that one too!

    1. Awesome! We may hold off for a couple years on Magic By the Lake, but we will definitely read it eventually!

  2. I read this to grandchildren, Halia and Travon, after being loaned the books by my daughter and their aunt, Becky. We followed it with Magic By the Lake but haven't gotten any further in the series. Becky has the series from when she taught 4th grade. Great fun!
    Grandma Jones

  3. I have never heard of this book. Which, to me, is surprising because even though there may be many picture books I've never heard of I thought that I knew (or at least heard of) most of the chapter books, especially anything that would be considered a classic. I don't know how I missed this one!

    I've read a few books to my girls that were challenging for them (Peter Pan!!!) and even though there were parts they didn't quite get they still loved the book. I think it's good to challenge them once in a while even though it might be hard for everyone involved. In fact, I think the rewards became more apparent after we had put the book down and moved on.

    1. You are definitely one of my "well-read" friends, so that's why I can't decide if this book is a classic or not!

  4. Sadly, I've never heard of it. Which is disappointing, because I'm a reader. Voracious, even. It sounds cute, though.

    1. See?! That's what I'm talking about! I would have thought for sure you would have heard of it! It seems like a book you would have liked as a kid.

  5. I haven't read it, but I have heard of it -- and I do think it is pretty well-known. But maybe it's not! Several other people haven't heard of it. Hmmm.

  6. I read it out loud to your younger siblings. I guess you weren’t around then. We loved it.

  7. I didn't hear about it until the last couple years, but then I read and loved it. I'm slowly reading the rest of the series and have given the books to my nephew as well!

  8. I would have said classic. I feel like I see that book everywhere! My mom bought them for my brother awhile back but I hadn't read them, but they've been on my list that's why I've noticed that I run into that series a lot. SO I'm surprised so many people haven't ever heard of them cause I'd assumed classic.

  9. I've always loved his books. I recently tried to start "Seven Day Magic" with my kids, but the lack of pictures and the slow start drove them away. Can't wait until they're ready!


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