Last year, I asked you, dear readers, for ideas for children’s and YA books to give my nieces and nephews for Christmas. You came through with flying colors, as I knew you would! In fact, your recommendations were so good that I ended up adding some of them to my own TBR list. This was one of those books.
Published in 1954, Half Magic by Edward Eager is a good old-fashioned adventure story. It involves four children who are just trying to get through a dreary summer, staying out of the way of the housekeeper, Miss Bick, and longing for a summer in the country or on the lake. Alas, their mother must work to support them because their father died years ago, so they are left having to content themselves with library books.
The summer takes a turn when they find a magic talisman that grants wishes, but only by halves. Once the children are onto the trick of it, they are able to use it to have great adventures. Of course, even the most careful children are likely to slip up from time to time, so mistakes happen, and one of these goofs leads them into an even bigger adventure with more significant consequences than they might have imagined.
I wouldn’t say this is the greatest kids’ book I’ve ever read, but the story is lots of fun. Each adventure is just different enough to keep the story from getting tedious. And there’s the kind of humor that’s typical of a lot of classic children’s fiction. Here, for example, is the introduction to the middle daughter, Katherine:
Katharine was the middle girl, of docile disposition and a comfort to her mother. She knew she was a comfort, and docile, because she’d heard her mother say so. And the others knew she was, too, by now, because ever since that day Katharine would keep boasting about what a comfort she was, and how docile, until Jane declared she would utter a piercing shriek and fall over dead if she heard another word about it. This will give you some idea of what Jane and Katharine were like.
As much fun as the story is, it was nearly done in by the audio production by Listening Library. Instead of a standard audiobook with a single narrator (or perhaps multiple chapters for different narrators), the Half Magic audiobook is more like a radio play, with different voice actors performing the dialogue of the characters. However, because the book is not written as a play, the transitions from narrator to character are awkward. Plus, a couple of the children have a tendency to be shouty, which I found both jarring and annoying. And the main narrator uses a sort of intense, excited voice that made me feel on edge, rather than charmed. I got used to it eventually, but I almost quit the book early on. It may be that the overly excited narration and the multiple voices would be appealing to children, the primary audience for the book, but it didn’t work for me.
I also have some complaints about the story itself. The adventures were enjoyable enough, and I liked how they started to pale in comparison to some of the real-life drama. There are a couple of moments of real emotional honesty there, particularly those involving the oldest child, Jane. However, the real-life drama is strongly influenced by the attitudes of the time in which the book is set, and the definition of happiness and of family is limited by that point of view. For that reason, certain situations develop much more quickly than they probably ever would—or ever should—in real life. That may be a case of my taking a silly story too seriously, but it still bugged me a bit and took me out of the story. So not a bad book, and one I’m sure I would have loved as a child, but not a favorite today.