by Edward Eager
All the children from Magic or Not?
are back, with some new friends. In yet another book that transports the magic of E. Nesbit
into American suburbia in the 1950s, Edward Eager delivers a warm-hearted tale of a group of children, using chiefly the magic of their own kindness and camaraderie to make the lives of those around them better. Only this time, he breaks the convention of having their adventures take place over a summer holiday. This tale unfolds during the fall, between and even during days of school and evenings of homework, school clubs, and sports.
It also breaks the E. Nesbit conventions by letting the main characters themselves narrate the story, taking a chapter at a time by turns. So you grow closer and see deeper into the hearts of the Martin twins Laura and James, their baby sister Deborah, and their sixth-grade friends Kip, Lydia, Gordy, and Dicky. Their hearts, their experiences, and their relationships are so real, so familiar, and so enjoyable! And the changes this second batch of "wishing well magic" brings them are part of the magic of growing up.
None of it is really "fantasy adventure" type stuff. The magic is mostly in these kids' hearts. But they are clever, funny, and sweet, and the things they accomplish by just believing in the wishing well are so amazing that you almost have to believe yourself. They help heal the hurts of a disturbed child. They help bring a bullying "hep cat" out of his shell. They play matchmaker between a man who is losing his farm and a woman who can't handle hers. They ensure that a controversial new family gets the welcome they deserve-- not the one planned by the "Smugs" of the neighborhood. And finally, when what actually looks (at first) like a real magical adventure turns into something else altogether, they still manage to pull off a "good turn" worthy of their club's name.
In one instructive passage, the children muse about the relationship between their "magic" and the Christian religion. They even ask their pastor about it. And though, being a pastor myself, I question the way they (or Eager, through them) use the Bible to arrive at their conclusion, I think the conclusion is correct. After hearing about the "good turns" the children have used the well to do for people, and being asked whether it is sacrilegious to use it for something related to the church, their minister says:
"I'm afraid I have not had a great deal of experience with magic. At least not the kind that lives in wells. But from what you tell me of the particular magic power you wield, I should say that it would 'mix with church,' as you put it, quite satisfactorily. I could even wish at times that more of my congregation were similarly gifted."
On the other hand, the guy in the Bible who went to the Witch of Endor wasn't wise Solomon, but foolish Saul, and the result was not good. I suppose the reason the kids got this wrong is that they are, well, kids, and part of the charm of the way Eager writes them is that they don't always get things right. These kids are adorable, and their adventures are charming, and the way they express themselves is so authentic (though of course, Edward Eager wrote the whole book) that you feel almost like part of the club. And at the end, when each one muses in turn on what he or she is thankful for, you will be thankful to have shared the magic with them.
Recommended Age: 8+
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