MAY 31:

  • Happy birthday Harry Mazer (A Boy at War), Ron Goor (Insect Metamorphosis), Elaine Moore (Get That Girl Out of the Boys’ Locker Room! ), and Will Hillenbrand (Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep! ).
  • It’s the birth date of Walt Whitman (1819-1892) Leaves of Grass, Elizabeth Coatsworth (1893-1986), The Cat Who Went to Heaven, and Jay Williams (1914-1978), Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like.
  • In 1927, the last Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line after a production run of over fifteen million vehicles. Read Tin Lizzie by Allan Drummond, and Mama and Me and the Model T by Faye Gibbons, illustrated by Ted Rand.

“It began one day in summer about thirty years ago, and it happened to four children.” So begins the book of the day, a perfect story about summer. This book holds a unique place in the children’s book canon. It is the only one I know where the author admitted to copying, shamelessly, from another author in style and spirit. But in the case of Edward Eager, he always claimed that Half Magic, and other books in the series, stood as a way to lead young readers back to the master: E. Nesbit.

Whatever he owes to Nesbit, Edward Eager invented an absolutely intriguing premise for a fantasy novel. Four children—Jane, Mark, Kathleen, and Martha—find a magical coin, which grants wishes. What could be better? Except this coin proves to be tricky. It grants only half a wish. The children quickly learn that wishes have to be carefully framed or they lead to a lot of difficulties. Young Martha, for instance, wishes for the cat to talk, but it only manages a flow of half-meaningless words. But one thing is certain. The coin provides a lot of excitement for the summer.

Like Pete Seeger, Eager dropped out of Harvard College. While there he produced a play so successful that he left to write plays and songs for theater, radio, and television. It wasn’t until he had a son that he began to read the books of English fantasy writer E. Nesbit. These books were grounded in “everyday” magic, things that could occur in the lives of ordinary children living normal lives. Eager drew from Nesbit’s structure and ideas for all of the seven books in his series and combined realism with exciting magical adventures. In these books a child doesn’t have to be attending Hogwarts for exciting events to happen. He or she can just live on an average block in an average city—like Toledo, Ohio, Eager’s home town—and fabulous events still occur.

Although Eager’s work went out of print for a short period, the fantasy craze brought about by the boy wizard Harry Potter brought it quickly back into favor. Plot-driven, with a huge dollop of humor and inventiveness, Half Magic and its sequels appeal greatly to those in second to fourth grades hunting for a accessible fantasy novel.

Even if you don’t find a magic coin this summer, Half Magic will allow you to think about what you would wish for—divided by half.

Here’s a passage from Half Magic:

And so naturally they all woke up even earlier than usual this morning, and Jane started right in reading out loud and didn’t stop till she got to the end of the last page.

And now yesterday The Enchanted Castle had come in, and they took it out, and Jane, because she could read fastest and loudest, read it out aloud all the way home, and when they got home she went on reading, and when their mother came home they hardly said a word to her, and when dinner was served they didn’t notice a thing they ate. Bedtime came at the moment when the magic ring in the book changed from a ring of invisibility to a wishing ring. It was a terrible place to stop, but their mother had one of her strict moments; so stop they did.

There was a contented silence when she closed the book, and then, after a little, it began to get discontented.

Martha broke it, saying what they were all thinking.

“Why don’t things like that ever happen to us?”


Originally posted May 31, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Humor, Imagination, Magic, Seasons, Summer
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Half Magic


  1. Amy says:

    My son loves this book! Thanks for filling me in on what he’s been reading.

  2. Anita,

    Thanks for this. Had never heard of these books. Can’t wait to get started. I also love that beautiful little drawing. David

  3. Erica S. says:

    Every week in my library I feature a book that I recommend for the week, and this was my choice just last week! Glad to see we’re on the same wavelength, Anita :o)

  4. Jean says:

    I knew there was a reason this book seemed to be whispering my name as I passed it.
    Will grab it soon! Thanks Anita! Have a wonderful day!

  5. Lydia says:

    This book is a joy to read and provides great food for thought for readers — what do you wish for if you’re only going to get half of the wish? Be careful — half-wishes can get you into all kinds of trouble!

    It is so funny and touching from start to finish, particularly the dynamic between the 4 siblings. I am always rooting for spunky Martha — and I love it when she proves to her older siblings that she has been right all along. “Magic by the Lake” is also a wonderful summer companion.

  6. Jacquie Fisher says:

    One of my favorite authors! I wasn’t introduced to Mr. Eager until I was an adult and choosing read-aloud stories for my son. We started with “Magic by the Lake” one summer, and then moved on to “Half Magic”. I really enjoy some of the discussions you can have with kids about what will happen in these stories – which half of the wish will come true? It’s never the half that you think it will be :-)

  7. Liza Martz says:

    This was the book that turned me into a dedicated reader when I was a child. I can still see it and its mates clustered together on the bottom shelf in the public library. And feel the excitement knowing when I finished one there were more to be read. Oddly, I didn’t read E. Nesbit until I was an adult but she was promptly added to my list of favorites right alongside Mr. Eager!

  8. Anita says:

    Thanks Liza and everyone for sharing these stories about the Eager books. I loved to hear of books that turn people into “dedicated readers.”

  9. Dee says:

    I read this book as a kid and loved it. Thanks for the reminder. I think I have students that would love it too!

  10. It’s June 4.

    Yes, I know this comment is late – but better ever than never.

    There is no way that I could let Edward Eager’s Half Magic go past me, without leaving at least half a comment.

    Although it does contain magic and adventures, when you put those two words together – jointly they mean much more than that.

    Magical adventures.

    I have never read it.

    I know it might seem strange that someone who has not yet read his books – is leaving a comment. I know.

    You can be assured I plan to read all of Eager’s books aloud, I already researched them, they are waiting on the shelf – I know they are unmissable.

    Read Aloud Dad simply wants to say that one can love a book, even before starting to read it.

    I am simply sharing my enthusiasm in advance.

    E. Nesbit and E. Eager. I can’t wait to let my imagination fly!

    In fact, I know this comment is early – but better ever than never.

    Read Aloud Dad

  11. Ariel Zeitlin Cooke says:

    I love this book! One of my all-time favorites and a family tradition. But I wouldn’t recommend it to 2nd graders. They wouldn’t even be up on the fractions required.

  12. Kathy Richman says:

    A friend’s mother introduced me to this book when I was in the fifth grade, and I loved it. Years later, my two daughters (now 29 and 26) loved it too, much to my delight.

  13. Chelsea DeTorres says:

    Fabulous read! The magic in this book is so enjoyable. One of my favorite parts is the fact that the other books by Eager connect in different ways to this book, which always made the adventures seem more believable to me.

  14. Linda Urban says:

    One of my all-time faves. The Full Cast Audio is really terrific and the kids and I have taken many a car trip with Katherine, Martha, Jane, and Mark. Of all the companion books The Knight’s Castle stands out for me. So much heart and humor.

  15. Anita says:

    Linda: Thanks for the tip. I’m on an audio craze myself right now. I’ll put these on the list.

  16. Jennifer says:

    You had written about Edward Eager before. I ordered all the books in the series, one is out of print, for my daughter. She read these book over and over again, along with the Penderwicks series, last year. They made her laugh out loud. So, a big THANK YOU for recommending these older treasures that we modern parents did not get to read as kids, and didn’t know about. I’m often desperately searching your old posts new reading material for my ten year old, who can read a book a day! Summer is especially challenging in this regard.

  17. Susan Golden says:

    Thank you for reminding me of well loved books that I know I will enjoy reading again. Love seeing this on Facebook every day.

  18. Lisa Schoof says:

    There is something “magical” about Half Magic and the rest of those books. Fond memories from my childhood!

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