HALF MAGIC was originally published in 1954, the first of seven books by Edward Eager in his “Tales of Magic” series. It’s classic children’s fantasy, with great illustrations by N.M. Bodecker.
My first real job straight out of high school in 1989 was in a children’s bookstore in Tustin, California, called Half Magic, named after the book because it was the owner’s favorite. I worked there for about 2 years, until it went out of business. It was a great place to work, and I cannot think of a better introduction to children’s lit. I met lifelong friends there, too.
Now I work in a high school library, and one of my new “regulars” came in yesterday, to return a book. She’s tiny, petite, a fierce bibliophile, and very quiet. She was frustrated, because it was not the book she’d been looking for. She was trying to find a book she had read and loved in elementary school. She could not remember the title or author, though. Just a few key details. There was a family of children, and they find a magic stone that grants wishes, and at some point a girl’s wish results in a fire.
After searching both our online catalog and Google, I couldn’t find anything that matched, but told her I’d keep looking. It’s my favorite kind of challenge, and I never give up until I solve the mystery.
The next morning she came in again, having remembered a few more details. A character named Jane, and the fact that the children’s father had passed away, but their mother was still part of the story.
While my tiny patron went over to chat quietly with her friends, I searched again using these new details and instantly found the book was HALF MAGIC. I kind of gasped, thinking, What are the chances? I skibbled over to the shelf and grabbed our copy, then took it over to the girl and just showed it to her, silently, with one eyebrow raised. She took it reverently, and studied the cover. Her eyes grew wide. She turned it over and read the synopsis on the back. Her eyes grew wider still, and she gasped, “This is it! This is the book!”
She must have stood there for several minutes straight, looking surprised and delighted, like she’d been reunited with an old friend, and that’s one of the very best things about working with people & books. She kept showing it to her friends, repeating, “This is it! This is the book I’ve been looking for!” It was the most effusive show of emotion I’ve seen from her about anything.
When she brought it to the circ desk to check it out, I told her that my very first real job was in a children’s bookstore called HALF MAGIC, named after that very book. I also told her that it’s part of a series, and we have the rest of the books available.
That afternoon I kept thinking fondly of my very formative years working in the children’s bookstore. Just this past year, we discovered that the owners were actually neighbors with my aunt, who lives in a neighboring city. The man had passed away, but his wife still lives there. I wrote her a letter, sharing the little HALF MAGIC incident with her, and telling her what fond memories I have of working with her and her husband. I’ll give the letter to my aunt tomorrow, and ask her to drop it off at their house. For a part-time job that only lasted two years before I even turned 20, that cozy little store and the book-loving people who worked there has had a significant impact on my life in all sorts of ways, and echoes of it still appear now and then.
Respect your roots, fellow book bitches!