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Top 100 Children’s Novels #54: Half Magic by Edward Eager

#54 Half Magic by Edward Eager (1954)
38 points

Edward Eager writes the essential books about four children having a magical adventure. This one has a classic concept and brilliant working out. – Sondra Eklund

This is one of my own childhood favorites as well. And I’m happy to report that it remains popular to this day.  A couple  years ago we had a classroom of kids come into the children’s room. After I did my usual intro and such the kids were allowed to look for books. Suddenly they swarmed like fireants over the child who had said loudly from the fiction section, “Oh, SNAP! Edward Eager!” I am confident that this was the only time in history that those particular words were put in that order. Turned out that their teacher had been reading them Mr. Eager’s works in class. They were new and very receptive fans and I doubt very much that they are alone.

The plot, as American Writers for Children, 1900-1960 puts it is that, “four siblings find a magic talisman that grants their wishes, but only by halves. They engage in a variety of wild and funny adventures as each makes a wish, carefully worded to allow for the feature of half fulfillment. But when Jane wishes inadvertently for a fire, a playhouse burns, and when Martha thoughtlessly wishes the cat could talk, the semiarticulate feline engages in an exasperating flow of half-meaningless words. Cautiously Mark wishes for a desert-island adventure, but the four are almost kidnapped and able to escape only through use of the talisman. Romantic Katharine wishes for a jaunt through medieval times, in which she first rescues Sir Launcelot from a dungeon, then, finding him ungrateful, challenges him to single combat and soundly defeats him. In the end the children decide to pass on their talisman to two small children in another part of town.”

One of these days I’m going to hold a Children’s Literature Quiz night and some of the questions will involve guessing famous authors’ real names. For example, we all know Edward Eager, but I doubt that many of us would have necessarily known that his middle name was McMaken. Also, I think that many Eager fans have difficulty separating his words from the art of N.M. Bodecker. The “N.M.” stood for “Nils Mogens” by the way. There’s another quiz question for later.

For that matter, I wonder how many folks have just assumed that Eager was British? He wasn’t, y’know. Nope. Born and grew up in Toledo, Ohio he did. He died of lung cancer in 1964 at the age of fifty-three. And with this book, Eager began what he called the “daily magic” series. Strangely enough, that moniker has never really caught on. We just call them the Edward Eager books, don’t we? He wrote seven altogether, and only one (The Well Wishers) was in the first person. And his biggest influence (though he did love his Oz books) was E. Nesbit. You can see it if you read books like The Phoenix and the Carpet or Five Children and It. Both Nesbit and Eager were fans of grumpy magic and grumpy magical creatures.

I was always inordinately pleased with the crossover moments within these books. I loved that the kids in this book would return in Magic By the Lake and then later their children would rescue them in The Time Garden. No other author ever really played with time like Edward Eager.

  • You can read some of the book here, if you like.

In a review in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review, it says that ” Many American children who are not in the least lured by Mrs. Nesbit, or even Alice , will find this the sort of fantasy they do like.”

The Times Literary Supplement said of it, “”For his character drawing, no praise can be too high.”

More covers than I would have initially suspected:

Like I say, I usually don’t include homemade videos, but this one . . . well, ya gotta love the originality.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I confess, my favorite Edward Eager is Seven-Day Magic, because I loved the magic book that writes about what the children are doing and it brings them into books, and it tells the formula for magic books (thwarting and being thwarted). But last time I listed that, and it didn’t make the top, so this time I thought I’d go with the most well-known. Also, I recently listened to a production of Half Magic on audio, and it really does hold up over the years. (So does Seven-Day Magic, but all of those books are classics, so I voted for Half Magic as a definitely worthy representative.)

  2. ChrisinNY says:

    I debated between Half Magic and Seven Day Magic, but went with latter. (Sometimes I think my favorite is The Time Garden, though, too.) I loved, loved, loved Eager’s books as a child and even tracked down E. Nesbit books because of the in text reference I saw in one. Glad his writing is acknowledged here.

  3. Genevieve says:

    Same as Sondy – my favorite is Seven-Day Magic, but I voted for it last time and it didn’t make the list, so I went with Half Magic this time since I like it nearly as much and Eager has got to be on the 100 list. (Three books in a row from my votes, after none at all up till now. O happy day!)
    Bodecker’s illustrations are pitch perfect. (I like Quentin Blake well enough, but couldn’t hold with his illustrations when Bodecker’s are out there.) Any other books he illustrated that I should know?

  4. Hurray for EE.

  5. This book is the one that caused my daughter to realize she had the power to read long chapter books on her own. I have a great deal of sentimental attachment to it for that. She actually ended up liking Seven Day Magic and Magic by the Lake better in the end, but still.

  6. Yay that we got Edward Eager on the list! Have you all read Laurel Snyder’s tribute to the Edward Eager books, Any Which Wall?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Oh yes indeed. Of course Eager was, in term, writing tributes to E. Nesbit. And on and on it goes.

  7. Hurrah for Eager! His books are amazing. His writing introduced me to E. Nesbit, and I still like him a teensy bit better. His children are just as real as hers, and his humor appeals to me more. Half Magic is one of those books that just about everyone can appreciate, whether you like fantasy or not.

    And I’d never heard that about him wanting to call his books the “daily magic” series. I love that name!

  8. I am a big EE fan! I taught 5th grade for 10 years, and I read the whole series of the Edward Eager books to my students every one of those years. They absolutely loved them! Of course, I had to read the novel, Ivanhoe, to them before I could read Knight’s Castle, and my students were really surprised to see the same characters in Eager’s book. Seven Day Magic is my favorite because the children finally get to see what happened to the baby and the little girl from Half Magic. I truly love the Eager series, and I am so glad that he got recognized as being one of the best!