Edward Eager (1911-1964) really ought to be better known. Although none of his books won major awards, they have stayed in print for more than fifty years and are still being read and enjoyed by elementary age children.
Mr. Eager was actually a successful playwright and lyricist. He wrote fewer than a dozen books for children, seven of them representative of what he termed his “daily magic” style. While reading aloud to his young son, Fritz, he discovered the books of the classic children’s author, Edith Nesbit (Five Children and It, The Railway Children, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Magic City, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and The Enchanted Castle, among others), and, admiring her style, consciously tried to imitate it.
His first “magical” sort of book was Half Magic, published in 1954. In this, as in the six to follow, he always paid homage to Nesbit by depicting his characters reading her books. Of her, he said, “Probably the sincerest compliment I could pay her is already paid in the fact that my own books for children could not even have existed if it were not for her influence”.
Okay, so what is so great about Eager’s books? Why should you read them aloud to your kids, or place them in your children’s hands? Although the world of his characters is that of his own childhood (1920s Toledo, Ohio), and there are certainly differences in lifestyle from our own time, there is also a timeless quality of childhood, a sense that magic can really happen to ordinary kids. As a character in another of his books, Seven-Day Magic, says, “The best kind of magic book …is when it’s about ordinary people like us, and then something happens and it’s magic. The best kind of magic book…is the kind where the magic has rules. And you have to deal with it and thwart it before it thwarts you. Only sometimes you forget and get thwarted”. The books exhibit a lot of humor and word play. The children in his books are reading children, and are often depicted visiting the library. There are many references to other authors and books running through his plots. The episodic chapters make the books perfect for reading aloud.
The characters introduced in that book reappear in Magic by the Lake, Knight’s Castle, and The Time Garden. Next, try the companion books, Magic of Not? and The Well-Wishers. Finally, you may want to read his last work, a stand- alone book, Seven-Day Magic, which is about a magical library book.
Half Magic appears on a number of lists of favorite or recommended books for children. Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, lists it as one of his favorite kids’ books. Terry Clark, head of the Children’s Library of the Vancouver Public Library in British Columbia, included it on her list, “If You Like Harry Potter, You Will Like These”. Finally, the modern children’s writer, Laurel Snyder, has continued the tradition of using imitation as the sincerest form of flattery by writing a book, Any Which Wall , which sets out to imitate Eager in just the way he imitated Nesbit. As researcher Charlotte Spivack put it, “…the best “daily magic” available to children is the magic experience of reading imaginative literature”.