HBJ, 1954 192 pages
Four children find an ancient coin at the beginning of an uneventful summer during the good-old-days of the 1920's. The eldest, Jane, makes a wish while holding the coin and the wish comes true--almost. After Mother borrows the coin and gets stranded halfway down the road to home the children connect the dots and realize that the coin contains magic, only it grants the wisher only half of that which is asked. What follows is a series of adventures and misadventures as the children take turns carefully phrasing their wishes and livening up the long and boring summer days. From a visit to King Arthur's Court to a riot causing bout of invisibility, high-jinx and mayhem ensue as wishes are crafted and unraveled. A local bookstore owner crosses paths with the family on more than one occasion and becomes the confidant and mentor to the children, as well as a new companion to their over-worked single mother. Eventually, the adventure reaches a climax and ends in a very satisfying way, yet leaving the door open for the sequel, Magic by the Lake.
A classic in a crowded field of fantasy for children, Half Magic has delighted generations of readers. I remember delving into it as a child and falling under its cozy and comforting spell of a style of storytelling from years gone by. I love that the author offers a shout out to influence E. Nesbit, displays the children walking two miles to the public library loaded down with books as the week’s highlight, and utilizes one of my favorite phrases, first coined by Louis Carroll, of believing in six impossible things before breakfast. Has it stood the test of time? Hard to say. The writing, mood, and familiar plot still spoke to me, although is that my own nostalgic bias? Certainly, the novel was penned in another era, where boys were more important than girls and mothers only worked if they had to, because of dead husbands, and long for the chance to quit and be taken care of by a man. That said, the three sisters in the novel are feisty and of strong disposition and not of the simpering variety. They are equal to their brother in all things and enjoy adventures just as much as he does. With only eight chapters in the book, the chapters go rather long with no breaks to let readers catch their breath. A few black and white drawings grace the pages, but they are much less plentiful than today's young visual readers are used to and less eye-catching. I, personally, loved spending time in Eager's rosy world and felt great satisfaction in the happy ending. Will today's readers agree? I will find out next week at my book-club meeting, as this title is March's selection.