Enchanted Summer: A Review of ‘Half Magic’ (Tales of Magic, #1)


 “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

Reading Level

AR:  5.0 (0.5 points)

Grade 6-8 (According to Scholastic)

Interest Level

Grades 4-8

Review and Comments

Summers are always very special for Jane, Mark, Katharine, and Martha, but everything changes after their father dies. They attempt to fill their summer days by playing with one another and going to the library often, which is the high point of their week. Each child searches for books in different genres, but they all love to read stories that inspire creative discussions about magical events.  However, these exchanges tend to leave them yearning for something extraordinary in their own lives. Little do they know that their summer is about to transform into something quite enchanted when Jane finds a shiny coin stuck in the sidewalk.

Not long after finding the coin, Jane makes a silly wish for something to happen -a fire.  All of a sudden, the children hear the sirens of fire trucks and witness an actual fire.  Questions of concern suddenly fill their heads.  Is Jane magic?  Is this a coincidence?  Will they be punished? It doesn’t take long for them to understand the coin is the key to wishes come true.  After a few mishaps from careless wishing, the children realize the magic they are experiencing “does things by halves,” so they must carefully double their wishes. They also make a list of “wishing rules” to maintain some kind of order and ensure their safety. Different chapters in the book describe in great detail the wishes of the family beginning with Jane’s wish. The reader is transported to a desert island, to the days of King Arthur, on a trip to the movie theater that ends with Martha being mistaken for a ghost, and then a very unusal episode when Jane becomes a member of a completely different family. 

In the reality portion of their summer, the family meets Mr. Hugo Smith.  He comes to the aid of Mother and the children on several occasions.  His patience and wisdom during these critical situations help him develop a close relationship with the family.  Eventually, he marries Mother with the approval of all the children.

 In the end, the family realizes they have “their hearts’ desire,” and they no longer need magic so Jane and Mark pass the coin on to an unsuspecting girl. They do slightly wonder if magic will ever be part of their lives again.

Half Magic was first published in 1954, and is now considered a classic. The setting for Half Magic is the 1920’s. There are many references to that era, which may be a deterrent for some “modern” readers.  There is also a short description of a man on a desert island and a conversation that is considered objectionable by today’s society.  (This is noted in the possible concerns section.) The chapters are filled with action and twists and turns.  If the reader’s mind set is “anything is possible,” he or she will find this a very entertaining story.

Possible Concerns

  1. [The children witness a playhouse on fire after Jane’s first wish.] The children felt since the playhouse belonged to a little girl who was “unmistakably spoiled and unpleasant type,” it was all right. 
  2. [Mother doesn’t tell Jane the whole story about her wish.] “It was awful to be lying like this, to her one child. But she couldn’t tell her the truth; she’d never believe it.  It would only upset her.”
  3. [An Arab in a caravan approaches the children while on the desert island.] “The ragged Arab’s expression was crafty and definitely unattractive.  As he came to a stop before them he smiled, which made him look more unpleasant than ever.”
  4. [The children try to talk to the Arab.] “How!” said Martha.  “What do you think he is, an Indian?” hissed Mark, under his breath.  He addressed the Arab.  “Allee same show humble servant nearest oasis chop-chop?”
  5. [While the children try to free Sir Lancelot, they wish a plum pudding on the Black Knight’s nose.] “And he whipped his sword out of its scabbard, and swapped off the green knight’s head.   Two sword blades flashed in the air, and a second later two heads fell on the floor, followed, more slowly, by two bodies.” [The bodies are reassembled using half magic.]

Further Discussion

Chart: 

  1. Make a calendar of the days of the week mentioned in the story.  Record the magic that took place each day by drawing a simple illustration of the events and writing a title.
  2. Compare the 1920’s to the current year.  Divide a chart in half and label the columns 1920 and the current year.  Find illustrations of items to compare, such as: cars, computer/typewriter, library, games, clothes, phones, etc.  The list is endless! Put the pictures in the appropriate columns.

Writing Topics:

  1. Birth order: What is your birth order in your family? discuss the positive aspects and challenges of that position. (Firstborn, middle child, last-born, only child, blended family)
    1. You can use the article “Birth Order and Personality” to help you with your discussion/writing.
  2. Favorite genre: The following genres are mentioned in the story: plays, poetry, picture books, and magic. What is your favorite genre?  Why is this genre your favorite?  Do you have a favorite book in this genre?
  3. Make a wish: If you could make a wish on the coin the children found, what would it be?  Explain the adventure you hope to experience.
  4. Choose an adventure:  Which adventure from the story would you like to experience?  Why?

Extensive Vocabulary: [This story has many vocabulary words that will certainly enrich a child’s reading and writing.]  nonfiction, sly, splendid, invisibility, spoilsport, foxglove, furiously, consultation, seven-league boots, despaired, descended, suppressed, gangling, suburb, thickets, throbbed, sinister, White Queen, ablaze, money-grubbing, talisman, shoe bag, compartments, enchanted, disapproving, conspiracies, scouring, traitorous, lamenting, inquired, monologue, horrid, emerged, whirring, vacant, trapeze bar, dazedly, caravan, oasis, shopworn, wasteland, dramatically, ahoy, Western Union, propelled, lagged, presently, conversing, sacred, unjust, proffered, reproaches, loathly, cubbyhole, quest, gallant, milkmaid, visor, foe, prophetess, ogre, parley, churls. chirruped, begone, disarm, jeering, tulgey, lambkill, henbane, draught, indignantly, aflame, dubiously, resolute, conscience, knaves, thwacking, grandstand, smote, combat, zounds, lackaday, tittered, discredit, meddling, foreign, utter caution, street car, wheedling, foreboding, soda fountain, intrigued, villain, wretched, outrage, jeepers creepers, misleading, clammy, ill-gotten, capable, frankly, adept, bureau, recklessness, drudgery, shabby, remnant, shunned, hallucinations, intrusion, hasty, reasserted, reproachfully, hoop-la, ponder, relented, summon, privet hedge, scraggly

Dated Phrases: all was Flotsam and jetsam, dibs on the nickel, out of the blue, in a half hearted way, do things by halves, looking for a camel in a needle’s eye, whence do you hail, fie on your weeping, flew the coop, it stands to reason, bite the dust

Books mentioned in the story: (Click on the pictures for affiliate link)

The Boys King Arthur by Sidney Lanier (1880)

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (1889)

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney and Grace Conlin (1881-1916)

Hildegarde’s Harvest by Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards (1897)

The Ingoldsby Legends by Richard H Barham (1840)

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit (1907)

The Little Match Girl by Han Christian Anderson (1845)

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)

The Literary Digest and the Outlook (1890-1938 and (1898-1906)

Also mentioned:

  • Movie – Sandra starring Barbara LaMarr[silent movie from 1924]
  • Card games
  • Fan Tan – “… once very popular. As with other games of the Stops group, it is easy to play and the action is very fast. It is also known as Parliament, Sevens, Card Dominoes, and Stops.”
  • I Doubt It – “…also known as B.S. and Cheat. Everyone plays their cards facedown and tells the group what they are playing. Don’t believe someone? Call out, “I doubt it!”
  • Flinch -….” is played with a pack of 150 cards consisting of 10 series. The object of the game is to get rid of your Flinch pile and the player who first succeeds wins the game.”
  • E. Nesbitis mentioned in the story as a favorite author of the children. Edith Nesbit“wrote or collaborated on more than sixty books of children’s literature.  She was also a political activist and co-founder of the Fabian Society, a socialist organization later affiliated with the Labour Party.” Source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._Nesbit

Other books in the Tales of Magic series: (Click on the picture for affiliate link)

#2 Knight’s Castle

#3 Magic by the Lake

#4 The Time Garden

#5 Magic or Not?

#6 The Well-Wishers

#7 Seven-Day Magic

Catholic Resources

This site includes quite a long list of saints who are patrons of widows:

Prayer for widows and widowers:

Lord Jesus Christ, during Your earthly life You showed compassion to those who had lost a loved one.

Turn Your compassionate eyes on me in my sorrow over the loss of my life’s partner. Fill this emptiness

until we are together again in Your heavenly kingdom as a reward for our earthly service. Help me to

cope with my loss by relying on You even more than before. Teach me to adapt to the new conditions of my life and to continue doing Your will. Enable me to avoid withdrawing from life and make me give myself to others more readily, so that I may continue to live in Your grace and to do the task that You have laid out for me.

Prayer for siblings:

O holy Lord, keep my brother(s) and sister(s) ever in this holy love. Grant them wisdom, health, a good life, and Thy Divine grace, so that they may walk in Thy ways and do those things that are well-pleasing to Thee. O sweetest Lord Jesus, help us by Thy grace, so that from this time until the end of our life we may love one another, for what is more good and more beautiful than for brothers to live together in unity? Thus, O Lord, hear our prayer and be Thou merciful unto us. For Thou art good, merciful, and the lover of men, and to Thee do we ascribe glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, 

both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

CCC 2219 Filial respect promotes harmony in all of family life; it also concerns relationships between brothers and sisters. Respect toward parents fills the home with light and warmth….

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