I've personally enjoyed this book and the rest of the books in the series, and hope it'll be a hit with fans of historical fiction, adventure, and of course, magic.
There may be minor spoilers as I try to give an accurate picture of the book.
(The discussion questions will have spoilers, since they are supposed to be used after reading the book.)
Title: Half Magic
Author: Edward Eager
Series: This book is the first in a seven book series called the Tales of Magic.
Targeted Age Range: 8-12
Synopsis: It all begins with a strange coin on a sun-warmed sidewalk. Jane finds the coin, and because she and her siblings are having the worst, most dreadfully boring summer ever, she idly wishes something exciting would happen. And something does: Her wish is granted. Or not quite. Only half of her wish comes true. It turns out the coin grants wishes—but only by half, so that you must wish for twice as much as you want. Wishing for two times some things is a cinch, but other doubled wishes only cause twice as much trouble. What is half of twice a talking cat? Or to be half-again twice not-here? And how do you double your most heartfelt wish, the one you care about so much it has to be perfect?
Language: There are insults and name calling throughout the book, given that the four main characters (Jane, Mark, Katharine, and Martha) are children, siblings, and strong-willed. Some of the other characters in the story give insults, threats, and scolding as well. Two knights make up an insulting, threatening poem about the knight Launcelot, and another insulting rhyme is made for a knight being "beaten by a girl". "Darn" is used once. There are mentions of cursing.
Violence: The children are slapped, kicked, and almost get kidnapped. There is mention of witches/dolls/other people being burned at the stake, dolls being stabbed in the heart, putting people "out of their misery", and half of a person being cut off. In order to keep Martha quiet in a movie theater, Jane "puts her under the seat". A tricked knight, and later two thieves, are tackled, bound, and gagged (the knight is temporarily captured and put in a prison cell). In one of the more violent scenes, two knights fight one another and cut each other to pieces (though later they are put back together again). While angry, Jane thinks of violent ways to scare the person she's mad at and then discards them. Martha gets stung by a bee.
Romance/Sexual Stuff: One of the subplots of Half Magic is the children's mother's falling in love with a man named Mr. Smith, and their eventual marriage. Jane especially finds it hard to accept the idea of a new stepfather, but later warms up to it. Their mother loves Mr. Smith, but at first says "no" to his proposal due to all the magic she's glimpsed, thinking she's going crazy. As part of a wish, a man gains a wife who smiles "coyly" at him.
While watching a movie starring Barbara LaMarr, Katharine and Jane are enchanted by the way "strong men wanted to kiss her", causing her to make "suffering faces at the audience with her eyebrows".
Spiritual Elements: Temples, Heaven, and gods are mentioned. A character turns toward the East and gives a prayer of thanksgiving. The special coin the children use is revealed to be a sacred charm. Katharine, reacting to a wish idea, says that the idea would be like "playing God". At the end of the story, Mark worries that they'll be turned into "pillars of salt" (referencing the story of Lot's wife in the Bible).
Magic: The main object in this story is a magical "half-wishing" coin, which is very old and powerful. Of course, the coin is the main way that Jane, Mark, Katharine, and Martha go on their adventures as well as ensure their family's happiness. The sorcerers Merlin and Morgan le Fay also make an appearance in the story. The magic coin and Merlin are seen as good ways to use magic, while Morgan le Fay's way of using magic is portrayed as bad. Sorcerers, witches, dragons, phoenixes, mermaid, fairies and magic objects and places are also mentioned.
References: There are references to the poem Evangeline, the author E. Nesbit (a personal favorite of the author's) and her book The Enchanted Castle, Shakespeare and his works, the White Queen from Alice in Wonderland, the Little Match Girl, Meleager, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Launcelot, Elaine, Galahad, and the Knights of the Round Table, The Boy's King Arthur, the author T.H. White, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Sherlock Holmes, Martians, the King's Highway, Robinson Crusoe, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Hildegarde's Harvest, The Ingoldsby Legends, England, Australia, Captain Kidd, Nero, the President and Congress of the United States, the Johnstown Flood, the Battle of Troy, the Salvation Army, the Literary Digest, The Outlook, I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate, Barbara Lamarr, Sandra, Charlie Chaplin, Little Nell, Amy March, and several games, including Flinch, Statuary, Old Witch, Parcheesi, Fan Tan, I Doubt It, and a Meccano set.
Other Issues: Thinking it's in their best interest, the children lie to their guardians, and their mother lies to them after being unaware that she's experienced magical happenings. In order to save Jane after a magical wish gone awry, a Mr. Smith lies to a couple that he is doing a study on child psychology. At the beginning of the story a fire caused by magic starts in a spoiled rich girl's playhouse, destroying it. Before he realizes the power of the coin, Mark wishes to play baseball with his friends. The coin transports them as if they're halfway there, and the world thinks they have been kidnapped. While also being "half there", Martha causes a public uproar by people who believe they've seen a ghost. While trying to communicate with an Arabian, Mark tries to use "Chinese" dialect that may or may not be considered derogatory.
Where To Buy: Half Magic is available on Amazon, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the Barnes and Noble website, eBay, and your local bookstores. There are also audiobook versions available on Penguin Random House and Audible.
My Age Range: Due to the issues above, and the more complicated storyline, I think that this book is best enjoyed by children ages 9 and up who aren't sensitive to violence. (Of course, understanding halves and fractions helps too!)
Read Aloud: I think it has potential for a good read aloud.
My Opinion: I accidentally started with the Tales of Magic's seventh book (Seven-Day Magic) awhile ago without realizing it was a part of a series. I later found this book and read though the whole series before realizing my mistake when I got to Number Seven again!
Like Alice Hoffman states in the foreword she wrote for the book, "Eager wrote the book in the 1950s, and the time period of Half Magic is the 1920s—yet the book feels timeless and the children could easily be our next-door neighbors." That timeless feeling, as well as the sense that "anything can happen", was a feeling that stayed with me as I read through the book.
I enjoyed reading about the children's personalities and struggles, and I enjoyed the Arthurian twist, as well as the kids' adventures and its joyful ending. In my opinion, the real "magic" of this story is not in the coin that Jane, Mark, Katharine, and Martha found, but in the memories they made with it and the things that they learned while doing it. Half Magic is certainly one of my favorite books, and despite any of its faults, is one that I would strongly recommend to anyone looking for an enjoyable, thought-provoking fantasy set in the world around us.
-While reading (or listening) to Half Magic, did you find yourself relating to Jane, Mark, Katharine, or Martha the most? Why?
-What kinds of adventures would you have with a magic coin? Would any of those adventures match the ones the children took? Why or why not?
-Mr. Smith eventually becomes the children's stepfather. Do you think he will be a good one? What might he struggle with as a stepfather?
-Merlin tells the children that their good deed has been bringing him the information that the ideals of the Round Table are still existing in the twentieth century. Do you think this was a good deed? From whatever you know about Merlin, why do you think he proclaimed this as their good deed?
-Jane, Mark, Katharine, and Martha each learn something through their magical journeys. What do you think they learned?
-The children hope for more magical adventures, not knowing if there will be any more. Do you think they should have another adventure? Why or why not? What do you think that adventure should be?
-At the end of the book, the children give the magic coin to another girl. What kind of things do you think this girl will wish for?
Let me know if you'd like me to review any of the other books in this series! Other than this one, there are six more. They are Knight's Castle, Magic by the Lake, The Time Garden, Magic or Not?, The Well Wishers, and Seven- Day Magic. Check out my "Review Policy" page if you want to request a different book to be considered for review.
I hope this review helped you, or gave you a suggestion for a friend.
Join me next week for reviewing a STEAM-full, stunning debut by a young author, and a special surprise...