Half Magicby Edward Eager, Words Take Wing Repertory Company Staff
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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 that 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 that it has to be perfect? Edward Eager's Half Magic has enchanted legions of readers for fifty years. This collectible, one-of-a-kind volume features the original art by N. M. Bodecker and a new introduction by award-winning author Jack Gantos, making it the definitive edition of this enduring classic.
“Half Magic is a funny, charming, timeless book, as much a pleasure to read to a child now as it was forty years ago. Those who had it read to them then may even have an obligation to pass on the pleasure.” —The New York Times Book Review
• "Ingenious make-believe. . . . Satisfying variety, surprise, and laughter. . . . A book children will want to read at one sitting." —Library Journal, starred review
Read an Excerpt
1. How It Began
It began one day in summer about thirty years ago, and it happened to four children.
Jane was the oldest and Mark was the only boy, and between them they ran everything.
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.
Martha was the youngest, and very difficult.
The children never went to the country or a lake in the summer, the way their friends did, because their father was dead and their mother worked very hard on the other newspaper, the one almost nobody on the block took. A woman named Miss Bick came in every day to care for the children, but she couldn't seem to care for them very much, nor they for her. And she wouldn't take them to the country or a lake; she said it was too much to expect and the sound of waves affected her heart.
"Clear Lake isn't the ocean; you can hardly hear it," Jane told her.
"It would attract lightning," Miss Bick said, which Jane thought cowardly, besides being unfair arguing. If you're going to argue, and Jane usually was, you want people to line up all their objections at a time; then you can knock them all down at once. But Miss Bick was always sly.
Still, even without the country or a lake, the summer was a fine thing, particularly when you were at the beginning of it, looking ahead into it. There would be months of beautifully long, empty days, and each other to play with, and the books from the library.
In the summer you could take out ten books at a time, instead of three, and keep them a month, instead of two weeks. Of course you could take only four of the fiction books, which were the best, but Jane liked plays and they were nonfiction, and Katharine liked poetry and that was nonfiction, and Martha was still the age for picture books, and they didn't count as fiction but were often nearly as good.
Mark hadn't found out yet what kind of nonfiction he liked, but he was still trying. Each month he would carry home his ten books and read the four good fiction ones in the first four days, and then read one page each from the other six, and then give up. Next month he would take them back and try again. The nonfiction books he tried were mostly called things like "When I Was a Boy in Greece," or "Happy Days on the Prairie"-things that made them sound like stories, only they weren't. They made Mark furious.
"It's being made to learn things not on purpose. It's unfair," he said. "It's sly." Unfairness and slyness the four children hated above all.
The library was two miles away, and walking there with a lot of heavy, already-read books was dull, but coming home was splendid-walking slowly, stopping from time to time on different strange front steps, dipping into the different books. One day Katharine, the poetry lover, tried to read Evangeline out loud on the way home, and Martha sat right down on the sidewalk after seven blocks of it, and refused to go a step farther if she had to hear another word of it. That will tell you about Martha.
After that Jane and Mark made a rule that nobody could read bits out loud and bother the others. But this summer the rule was changed. This summer the children had found some books by a writer named E. Nesbit, surely the most wonderful books in the world. They read every one that the library had, right away, except a book called The Enchanted Castle, which had been out.
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 loud 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.
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.
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?"
"Magic never happens, not really," said Mark, who was old enough to be sure about this.
"How do you know?" asked Katharine, who was nearly as old as Mark, but not nearly so sure about anything.
"Only in fairy stories."
"It wasn't a fairy story. There weren't any dragons or witches or poor woodcutters, just real children like us!"
They were all talking at once now.
"They aren't like us. We're never in the country for the summer, and walk down strange roads and find castles!"
"We never go to the seashore and meet mermaids and sand-fairies!"
"Or go to our uncle's, and there's a magic garden!"
"If the Nesbit children do stay in the city it's London, and that's interesting, and then they find phoenixes and magic carpets! Nothing like that ever happens here!"
"There's Mrs. Hudson's house," Jane said. "That's a little like a castle."
"There's the Miss Kings' garden."
"We could pretend..."
It was Martha who said this, and the others turned on her.
Because of course the only way pretending is any good is if you never say right out that that's what you're doing. Martha knew this perfectly well, but in her youth she sometimes forgot. So now Mark threw a pillow at her, and so did Jane and Katharine, and in the excitement that followed their mother woke up, and Miss Bick arrived and started giving orders, and "all was flotsam and jetsam," in the poetic words of Katharine.
Two hours later, with breakfast eaten, Mother gone to work and the dishes done, the four children escaped at last, and came out into the sun. It was fine weather, warm and blue-skied and full of possibilities, and the day began well, with a glint of something metal in a crack in the sidewalk.
"Dibs on the nickel," Jane said, and scooped it into her pocket with the rest of her allowance, still jingling there unspent. She would get round to thinking about spending it after the adventures of the morning.
The adventures of the morning began with promise. Mrs. Hudson's house looked quite like an Enchanted Castle, with its stone wall around and iron dog on the lawn. But when Mark crawled into the peony bed and Jane stood on his shoulders and held Martha up to the kitchen window, all Martha saw was Mrs. Hudson mixing something in a bowl.
"Eye of newt and toe of frog, probably," Katharine thought, but Martha said it looked more like simple one-egg cake.
And then when one of the black ants that live in all peony beds bit Mark, and he dropped Jane and Martha with a crash, nothing happened except Mrs. Hudson's coming out and chasing them with a broom the way she always did, and saying she'd tell their mother. This didn't worry them much, because their mother always said it was Mrs. Hudson's own fault, that people who had trouble with children brought it on themselves, but it was boring.
So then the children went farther down the street and looked at the Miss Kings' garden. Bees were humming pleasantly round the columbines, and there were Canterbury bells and purple foxgloves looking satisfactorily old-fashioned, and for a moment it seemed as though anything might happen.
But then Miss Mamie King came out and told them that a dear little fairy lived in the biggest purple foxglove, and this wasn't the kind of talk the children wanted to hear at all. They stayed only long enough to be polite, before trooping dispiritedly back to sit on their own front steps.
They sat there and couldn't think of anything exciting to do, and nothing went on happening, and it was then that Jane was so disgusted that she said right out loud she wished there'd be a fire!
The other three looked shocked at hearing such wickedness, and then they looked more shocked at what they heard next.
What they heard next was a fire siren!
Fire trucks started tearing past-the engine, puffing out smoke the way it used to do in those days, the Chief's car, the hook and ladder, the Chemicals!
Mark and Katharine and Martha looked at Jane, and Jane looked back at them with wild wonder in her eyes. Then they started running.
The fire was eight blocks away, and it took them a long time to get there, because Martha wasn't allowed to cross streets by herself, and couldn't run fast yet, like the others; so they had to keep waiting for her to catch up, at all the corners.
And when they finally reached the house where the trucks had stopped, it wasn't the house that was on fire. It was a playhouse in the backyard, the fanciest playhouse the children had ever seen, two stories high and with dormer windows.
You all know what watching a fire is like, the glory of the flames streaming out through the windows, and the wonderful moment when the roof falls in, or even better if there's a tower and it falls through the roof. This playhouse did have a tower, and it fell through the roof most beautifully, with a crash and a shower of sparks.
And the fact that it was a playhouse, and small like the children, made it seem even more like a special fire that was planned just for them. And the little girl the playhouse belonged to turned out to be an unmistakably spoiled and unpleasant type named Genevieve, with long golden curls that had probably never been cut; so that was all right. And furthermore, the children overheard her father say he'd buy her a new playhouse with the insurance money.
So altogether there was no reason for any but feelings of the deepest satisfaction in the breasts of the four children, as they stood breathing heavily and watching the firemen deal with the flames, which they did with that heroic calm typical of fire departments the world over.
And it wasn't until the last flame was drowned, and the playhouse stood there a wet and smoking mess of ashes and charred boards that guilt rose up in Jane and turned her joy to ashes, too.
"Oh, what you did," Martha whispered at her.
"I don't want to talk about it," Jane said. But she went over to a woman who seemed to be the nurse of the golden-haired Genevieve, and asked her how it started.
"All of a piece it went up, like the Fourth of July as ever was," said the nurse. "And it's my opinion," she added, looking at Jane very suspiciously, "that it was set! What are you doing here, little girl?"
Jane turned right around and walked out of the yard, holding herself as straight as possible and trying to keep from running. The other three went after her.
"Is Jane magic?" Martha whispered to Katharine.
"I don't know. I think so," Katharine whispered back.
Jane glared at them. They went for two blocks in silence.
"Are we magic, too?"
"I don't know. I'm scared to find out."
Jane glared. Once more silence fell.
But this time Martha couldn't hold herself in for more than half a block.
"Will we be burnt as witches?"
Jane whirled on them furiously.
"I wish," she started to say.
"Don't!" Katharine almost screamed, and Jane turned white, shut her lips tight, and started walking faster.
Mark made the others run to catch up.
"This won't do any good. We've got to talk it over," he told Jane.
"Yes, talk it over," said Martha, looking less worried. She had great respect for Mark, who was a boy and knew everything.
"The thing is," Mark went on, "was it just an accident, or did we want so much to be magic we got that way, somehow? The thing is, each of us ought to make a wish. That'll prove it one way or the other."
But Martha balked at this. You could never tell with Martha. Sometimes she would act just as grown-up as the others, and then suddenly she would be a baby. Now she was a baby. Her lip trembled, and she said she didn't want to make a wish and she wouldn't make a wish and she wished they'd never started to play this game in the first place.
After consultation, Mark and Katharine decided this could count as Martha's wish, but it didn't seem to have come true, because if it had they wouldn't remember any of the morning, and yet they remembered it all too clearly. But just as a test Mark turned to Jane.
"What have we been doing?" he asked.
"Watching a fire," Jane said bitterly, and at that moment the fire trucks went by on their way home to the station, to prove it.
So then Mark rather depressedly wished his shoes were seven-league boots, but when he tried to jump seven leagues it turned out they weren't.
Katharine wished Shakespeare would come up and talk to her. She forgot to say exactly when she wanted this to happen, but after they waited a minute and he didn't appear, they decided he probably wasn't coming.
So it seemed that if there was any magic among them, Jane had it all.
But try as they might, they couldn't persuade Jane to make another wish, even a little safe one. She just kept shaking her head at all their arguments, and when argument descended toinsult she didn't say a word, which was most unlike Jane.
When they got home she said she had a headache, and went out on the sleeping porch, and shut the door. She wouldn't even come downstairs for lunch, but stayed out there alone all the afternoon, moodily eating a whole box of Social Tea biscuits and talking to Carrie, the cat. Miss Bick despaired of her.
When their mother came home she knew something was wrong. But being an understanding parent she didn't ask questions.
At dinner she announced that she was going out for the evening. Jane didn't look up from her brooding silence, but the others were interested. The children always hoped their mother was going on exciting adventures, though she seldom was. Tonight she was going to see Aunt Grace and Uncle Edwin.
"Why?" Mark wanted to know.
"They were very kind to me after your father died. They have been very kind to you."
"Useful presents!" Mark was scornful.
"Will Aunt Grace say, 'Just a little chocolate cake, best you ever tasted, I made it myself'?" Katharine wanted to know.
"You shouldn't laugh at your aunt Grace. I don't know what your father would say."
"Father laughed at her, too."
"It isn't the same thing."
This kind of conversation was always very interesting to the children, and could have gone on forever so far as they were concerned, but somehow no grown-ups ever seemed to feel that way about conversations. Their mother put a stop to this one by leaving for Aunt Grace's.
When she had gone things got strange again. Jane kept hovering in and out of the room where the others were playing a halfhearted game of Flinch, until everyone was driven wild.
Finally Mark burst out.
"Why don't you tell us?"
Jane shook her head.
"I can't. You wouldn't understand."
Naturally this made everyone furious.
"Just because she's magic she thinks she's smarter!" Martha said.
"I don't think she's magic at all!" This was Katharine. "Only she's afraid to make a wish and find out!"
"I'm not! I am!" Jane cried, not very clearly. "Only I don't know why, or how much! It's like having one foot almost asleep, but not quite-you can't use it and you can't enjoy it! I'm afraid to even think a wish! I'm afraid to think at all!"
If you have ever had magic powers descend on you suddenly out of the blue, you'll know how Jane felt.
When you have magic powers and know it, it can be a fine feeling, like a pleasant tingling inside. But in order to enjoy that tingling, you have to know just how much magic you have and what the rules are for using it. And Jane didn't have any idea how much she had or how to use it, and this made her unhappy and the others couldn't see why, and said so, and Jane answered back, and by the time they went to bed no one was speaking to anyone else.
What bothered Jane most was a feeling that she'd forgotten something, and that if she could remember it she'd know the reason for everything that had happened. It was as if the reason were there in her mind somewhere, if only she could reach it. She leaned into her mind, reaching, reaching...
The next thing she knew, she was sitting straight up in bed and the clock was striking eleven, and she had remembered. It was as though she'd gone on thinking in her sleep. Sometimes this happens.
She got up and felt her way to the dresser where she'd put her money, without looking at it, when she came home from the fire. First she felt the top of the dresser. Then she lit the lamp and looked.
The nickel she'd found in the crack in the sidewalk was gone.
And then Jane began thinking really hard.
Copyright © 1954 by Harcourt, Inc.
Copyright renewed 1982 by Jane Eager
Introduction copyright © 2004 by Jack Gantos
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.
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Meet the Author
EDWARD EAGER (1911–1964) worked primarily as a playwright and lyricist. It wasn't until 1951, while searching for books to read to his young son, Fritz, that he began writing children's stories. His classic Tales of Magic series started with the best-selling Half Magic, published in 1954. In each of his books he carefully acknowledges his indebtedness to E. Nesbit, whom he considered the best children's writer of all time—"so that any child who likes my books and doesn't know hers may be led back to the master of us all."
Alice Hoffman is the author of many books for children including Aquamarine, Green Angel, and Nightbird. Her books for adults include Practical Magic, The Museum of Extraordinary Things,The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites. Half Magic is her favorite book for children and Edward Eager is her favorite children’s book author.
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This book is my all-time favorite! This novel is about 4 siblings (Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha) who have immersed themselves during their summer vacation in the magical books written by E. Nesbit and begin yearning to go on their own magical adventures. That's when they find a strange coin that grants wishes: only that you have to wish for one thing twice. For example, if you want a pen, you must wish for 2. If you say, 'I want 1 pen' you will have 1/2 a pen. The coin leads the 4 kids on an adventure that even gains them an extended family. I liked this book because it made me think, 'Am I glad I have 2 terrific parents!' because the 4 children have a single mother. If you're a fan of fantasy and adventure books, I recommend Half Magic!
I rather enjoyed this tale. Four children from long ago discover a magic coin that grants wishes halfway. The book tells of magic in our world in a way that makes you want to believe it. It's one of those nice, clean, unromantic books that are so hard to find. I would recommend it to anyone who can read fairly well.
I am 40 now. But i still have my copies of Half magic, and Knights castle. I read them to my daughter who is 7. We both enjoy them immensely. I have not read the others (our library did not have them) so i am looking forward to reading them together. It takes me back. Fun, adventure and family....
OMG! I've read thousands of books but this is one that I remember well. I love the plot, characters, magic,(well half-magic), and adventure that keeps you reading. This is a great book and one that I would reccomend to anyone! :)
Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha are bored. It's summer and they have nothing to do, except sit at home and clean while their nanny, Miss Bick, tells them what to do. Their father died years ago and their mother cannot stay at home with them. So, the four children think hard about what they can do to make their summer not so boring...and that's when they find a small little nickel on the ground. It looks like an ordinary nickel from afar, but when held up close, you can see the strange runes carved onto it. Before they know it - and without them knowing it! - the four children are sucked into a great and terrible adventure, full of halves and doubles and gray houses and knights and jousts and being half-there and half-not. It is full of lessons and love and learning what it means to become a happy family. For an advanced reader, the first chapter isn't amazing. Nothing really happens and Edward Eager's writing is very simple. When the charm (the nickel) comes into play, however, and begins working its magic, the story picks up. It was a laugh! There were so many funny one-liners that made me giggle out loud. Puns, ironies...it was all there. The children are all well-developed: Jane is the sensible one, Mark is the smartest (because he's the boy), Katherine is the romantic, and Martha is the most outspoken. Their mother and Mr. Smith were great additions to a great story with a great, lovable ending. The story had twists and turns that led you right where Eager wanted you...where you want to be, too. Happy. All in all, this was one great read and I highly recommend it to children of all ages - and adults too! - who want to laugh and smile with a lighthearted story that will always be loved.
I think that Half Magic was a very interesting and exciting book. Even though it is already full of action I wouldn't be able to rate this book a perfect 5 out of 5. I think it could have been written (just in some parts) so it's more exciting for the readers. Other than that I recommend this book to anybody between ages 10 - 13 who love fictional books!
This book shows the importance of staying together with your brthers and sisters, overall four stars (it could have been longer though)
I LOVED THIS BOOK! it wasn't until after i read it that i found out that he was my great uncle who died before i was born......but it's my favorite book in the world!!!
This is one I'd the BEST books to read outloud to kids!! It's a tongue twister and chock full of fun for kids and adults a like
For thoes of you who like Harry Potter this is your nekt book.
One of the best book i have ever read
I loved this book when I was a child, and all of my friends recommended it to me. Eager is imaginative and creative. I'm sure that children today will love this book too.
I thought that this book was good and great for grades 4 -6 this book is good for reads that you need to get to the end because it is so good this book will keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time kt.kokkm
This book is one of the best Fantasy Fiction books of the world.
A great book! I read this book when I was a young girl (I was about 10 years old) and loved it! A group of siblings find a magic coin and realize it will grant them 'half' of what they wish for. They end up having some very exciting adventures traveling through time. What started out as a boring summer turns out to be the best summer ever for these brothers and sisters. My 11 year old daughter read this book when she was nine and also loved it. It is one of her all time favorite boks. So this book continues to be a favorite from one generation to another!
this was a good book about magic and stuff, but it was soooooo short! i finished it in like, half an hour!
This Book is so-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o Cool!!!! If your into things that are Magical Read this book.I loved this book so much I'm on the 5th book!
A Very good book! This SPLENDED book is about four children who find a coin on the side walk and make a wish. They soon find out that only half of the wish comes true, so they start wishing for twice as much as they wish for so the wish will come true. Of course the majic leads to bad things but they are always getting out of it. Could their last wish come true? Find out by reding this book.
Half-Magic was an okay book, I thought it was too short, and would have liked it to be longer. I don't think anyone over 15 would really like this book, unless they are really childish. Overall I give it three stars
This book was okay. I sort of wished it was longer though. Overall it was pretty good.
This is a non stop adventure novel. I could never put it down. Origonally a christmas present for my brother I took it in attemps to see if it was good. It turns out to be a can't put down novel. I love the momin this story and the ending is perfect.So read this awseom novel that is humoris, and suspencful all together. :)
Terrible book. What is wrong with those children?
Great book. Its about four siblings, Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha. They find a magic coin and wish on it, but they have to say it twice