Into My Bookshelf: The Time Garden

Welcome back to my bookshelf! Continuing along the short shelf, and continuing with Edward Eager books, we’ve got one of my absolute favorite books from childhood to experience today.

The fourth in a series of children’s books by Edward Eager, The Time Garden is easily my favorite of the six. Four children, the children from Knight’s Castle (book two), go on their second magical adventure. As with the others, it’s a seasonal adventure. They discover a thyme garden full of magical thyme herbs, all of various types. Their somewhat-guide through the garden is a talking toad (as I remember it, could be a different animal), and not the most reliable of hosts.  Until the thyme is ripe, they can go on all sorts of adventures through history, never knowing for certain where they will land, but knowing a little about the sort of adventure they will have based on the type of thyme they choose.

Being the fan of history that I am, and admittedly a huge fan of well-done time travel, this is easily my favorite Edward Eager tale. The children travel to the American Revolution, helping Paul Revere spread the word that the British are coming. They also go back to the Civil War era, helping a couple of runaway slaves through the Underground Railroad.

Perhaps the best episode, however, is where these four children go back in time to an event that happens in the previous book, Magic by the Lake, where they help their own parents out of a pickle on their own magical adventure. It’s not only a great tie-in, but it’s a charming idea, since readers who read in sequence would have already known that the children helping out were the future children of the initial children (got that?), but hadn’t figured out how it all worked until they got to The Time Garden.

As with the other Edward Eager books, this is a magical, charming, enchanting children’s book that really is a wonderfully written, interesting read. This one is also very intelligent, and the beautiful thing about these book is how much you learn about and explore all sorts of things just by reading about four children having a magical adventure.



Into my Bookshelf: Magic by the Lake

Welcome back to my bookshelf!

Continuing both with my short shelf and with the lovely books of Edward Eager, today I am talking about Magic by the Lake!

As in my previous posts about the books in this series (here and here), this book is about four children having a magical adventure, alleviating them from boredom and delighting young readers.

Although Knight’s Tale follows the children of the four in Half-Magic and is the second book published, Magic by the Lake returns to the first set of children on a summer holiday. The children spend their summer vacation at a lake, instead of by the sea, and they meet a magical creature. Not a genie in a bottle, but a grouchy talking box-turtle. Like all of the best magical beings, he is not simpering and compliant, but sassy and hard to work with, which makes the adventures all the more interesting.

One of the most delightful moments in this book, as with most good books, is when our heroes get into a spot of trouble and need rescuing. The beautiful thing about magic is that the rescue we see here is seen from the viewpoint of the rescuers in his next book, which will be my next blogpost. For people who appreciate time-travel tales (already ahead of myself!), it’s a really brilliant moment.

Edward Eager had an obvious talent for writing stories about children who used magic in spite of its difficulties and complexities, and this story is another charming example. A wonderful choice for children on their own summer vacation looking for a bit of magic.



Into My Bookshelf: Knight’s Tale

Welcome back to my bookshelf!

Today, we are still on my short shelf, and we’re continuing in the series of children’s books on magic by the wonderful author, Edward Eager.

A note on order here: I’ve shelved and will thus write about this series in order of publication, which puts Knight’s Tale second, published in 1956. I’ve lost the original sleeve the series came in that wrote the order they were meant to be put into the sleeve in, so I don’t remember what order I read them as a child. This is possibly the third one to be read.

I’ll explain more on that note in the next post.

This story, however, is the story of progeny of the original children from Half-Magic. Martha’s children, Roger and Ann, are visiting their Aunt Katherine and her children, Eliza and Jack. As can be the case with cousins who don’t see too much of each other, they have very different personalities and get off to a bit of a rocky start at first.

Magic fixes that, naturally.

As I said before of the series, the rules are totally different. This is more reminiscent of Toy Story, where everything comes alive at night. The children build a city of toy figurines and old boxes, and with a little mythology help from the novel Ivanhoe and a dash of magic, they find themselves inside the city, interacting with the figurines, learning the rules of chivalry and discovering that familiar fantasy dilemma: How to explain to creatures of a different era or place why you’ve suddenly appeared on their turf with strange clothes that are actually your pajamas.

So, as with the other Eager book, Knight’s Tale uses imagination, creativity, and the rules of magic to spice up a less-than-agreeable family holiday. It also bonds the cousins together in a way that only such magical experiences can do, and they find that they have a thing or two in common after all.

By the way, it’s not on my bookshelf, but if you haven’t read Ivanhoe, you really should. It’s a spectacular story and this book is twice as enjoyable after having read it. I know, because as soon as I read Knight’s Tale at the age of nine, I checked Ivanhoe out at the library and devoured it.



Into my Bookshelf: Half-Magic

Welcome back to my bookshelf! We’re continuing on with my short shelf, and we’ve reached a series, which will take up the next seven posts.

My being a very imaginative child, the very small amount of actual children’s literature I read as a child consisted almost exclusively of books I read for school and fantasy books. I’m probably not unique in this, but it did feed an utter fascination with the fantastic that has followed me ever since.

My mother, bless her, bought me a box set of books she had read were excellent for children who read the sort of things I read, and I’m going to highly recommend every single one of them in the next seven posts because they were such a delightful part of my reading experience as a child.

Edward Eager was a writer active in the 50’s and 60’s, and is best known for the series of stories about children encountering the fantastic. The first of these, Half-Magic, was published in 1954, for example.

There are clever twists and rules in each book, every magical encounter a bit different from the rest. It’s like Narnia in some ways. For example, there are seven books with varying experiences of different children. Some of the children come back, some overlap, some are related to each other, but there are always four children: usually two boys, two girls.

In this first book we have Katherine, Martha, Jane, and Mark (note, only one boy in this set), who are experiencing perhaps the worst thing a set of four children can experience: a boring summer. Things get a bit lively when they discover a magical coin.

The catch? It only grants half of your wish. You wish to be on a desert island, you end up in the desert. At one point, unknowingly, their mother uses the coin and wishes she were home, and ends up – to her shock and confusion – halfway home.

Because you never know which half of your wish is going to be granted, there’s no proper way to be sure of what you’re getting, but that’s an important part of the fun! The best thing about this story is that it sets the stage for the further tales and lets you know that in Edward Eager’s world, magic may have rules, but you won’t always know how to wrangle with them. Magic can’t be harnessed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go along for the ride!



Into my Bookshelf: The Wanderer

Hello, everybody!

Welcome back to my bookshelf. We’re continuing on with the short shelf today, and I confess that the next two on the shelf I’ve yet to finish, so you’ll be getting my thoughts on Heat Wave by Richard Castle (yup, from the television series) and The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer when I’ve finished them.

So the next book on my shelf is The Wanderer by Sharon Creech. Another children’s book, appropriate for the older years of elementary school, this book is another one I haven’t read in a very long time, but it’s exceptionally well-worn. This was one of those required-reading things I did at that age, either in fourth or fifth grade. I can’t remember if I read it on my own, or if it was one that the teacher read out loud, but I remember that I loved it so much my mother got me my own copy.

The story follows Sophie on a trip across the ocean, in a diary format. It’s a beautifully written piece that also follows her emotional journey where she discovers things about herself and her family. You learn a lot about ships as well, because it includes a satisfying amount of technical information about all sorts of things, including how fiberglass works. I loved that as a child.

It’s a delightful tale that actually teaches kids a lot about a lifestyle I can almost guarantee none of them have lived. So if you’re looking for a book to share, it’s a wonderful option.



Into my Bookshelf: The Pinballs

Welcome back to my bookshelf! Next up is The Pinballs, by Betsy Byars.

Like the other entries so far from my short shelf, this is a book I haven’t read in a very long time. It’s a children’s book, but not for especially young children. I don’t recall when I read it, but when I was probably too young. I would say middle school age off the top of my head.

The story is about three foster children who are bounced around from place to place, hence “The Pinballs” – a name they adopted for themselves. It’s well-written, relatively short, and definitely a tearjerker if you’ve got a tender spot for children who’ve been stepped on or run over.

Because one of the boys was literally run over by his father, just backed up the car right over him and broke his legs. I would say “oops”, but that’s probably in poor taste.

I inherited the book from my eldest sister, who liked to give me her emotionally scarring books when she finished them, usually before I was old enough to really be reading such things. You’ll hear more about that later in my bookshelf and you’ll see what I mean.

In the end, though, the book is uplifting, obviously, as it is meant for children. So if you like a book about the underprivileged beating the odds that’s a quick and interesting read, this is a good one.



Into My Bookshelf: Jane Eyre

Welcome back to my bookshelf!

Today, we’re continuing on along my short shelf, looking today at Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.

My first experience with this novel was in seventh grade, when I read it as one of my required reading books. I was going through classics at the time, and I read it along with other female-authored classics of similar size (notably other Bronte sister novels and some Jane Austen). From my initial impressions, I recall preferring it vastly to all of Austen and a little bit to Wuthering Heights. It was melancholy without being (thirteen-year-old me felt) overdramatic.

My second read happened sometime in high school, although the details are fuzzy. By this point I’d ready a gross amount of Dickens, Vanity Fair, and several quite thick Russian classics, and Jane Eyre no longer cut the mustard for me, I’m afraid. It went into the stack of books like Frankenstein and The Old Man and the Sea that I never wanted to see again in my life. If someone had asked me at the time to discuss my violent assessment in intelligent terms with things like sentences and adjectives, I don’t think I could have done it. I had a very visceral reaction to my reread that leads me to believe now that it was something I was experiencing in my life that must have subconsciously mixed with the novel in a very negative way.

Because now, while I don’t think I will ever love it, I’ve kept it on my bookshelf in spite of my previously violent reactions to it. Frankenstein wasn’t so lucky. It was one of the few non-children’s books that I opted to give away when I was cleaning. Something about Jane Eyre, however, reached out and appealed to the 22-year-old me. Perhaps it’s the melancholy nature, the darkness that finds communion with my inner Mistress of Dark Emotion. Perhaps it’s my inner Victorian. I really can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it’s staying on my short shelf for now, and when I go to pack up and move in a couple year’s time, we’ll see if it’s still so lucky.

I’ll confess that this one is due for a reread, and when I go through rereading things it will most likely be on the list. But here’s a few thoughts from those around me on the novel, and my reactions to them.

First of all, my brother had to read it in his 9th grade English class, and the particular exercise was to annotate the book as he read. So he left sticky notes all through the copy (or maybe he wrote in the margins, I haven’t actually looked, but my other brother still has all his sticky notes in the copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude I loaned him for AP English) and had to turn in his thoughts to the teacher. I will say that he didn’t especially enjoy the novel, and found it too long and vastly depressing. Not so much that he refused to watch Pride and Prejudice with me, but enough that his teacher actually said she couldn’t finish reading his comments because they were too disturbing. Whatever it was he wrote, he wasn’t referred to the counselor, but I’m sure it was witty, entertaining, and vaguely bizarre. I’d like to get my hands on those comments one day.

My excellent friend, fellow writer, and aspiring young-adult author Meg happens to be a big fan of Jane Austen, and consequently knows much of its offshoots. While she says she’s never read Jane Eyre, she happens to have learned that the novel was born out of a question Charlotte Bronte asked herself: What would happen if Jane Fairfax (from Jane Austen’s Emma) had become a governess rather than marrying? Thus was the beginning of a great classic.

So for those of you who have heard or said that fan fiction can’t be great literature, there’s that proved wrong. One of the greatest classics, taught frequently to high school students, began its life as a fan fiction. Proof that the question “what if” can do just about anything in the right hands.