Connie's Reviews > Half Magic

Half Magic by Edward Eager
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's review
Aug 25, 2010

liked it

Mostly, I love this book. I liked it as a kid (except for that caveat I'll get to in a minute). I like it now, as a grown-up. The story is interesting and engaging. The trouble the kids get themselves into is believable (well, for a fantasy novel...!), and I like their solutions. The problem of having to double all your wishes is interesting to me. The only thing is...

The only thing is that a whole chapter is taken up with a trip to a desert, where the children run across an evil, wicked, terrible Arab man. Even the illustration is an ugly caricature. There isn't even a feasible way to avoid this part - it's interwoven in the story in such a way that you can't simply say "Look, this is a part that I feel is inappropriate, we're not reading it today" and skip to the next part.

Now, I know, somebody is going to pop up and say "But you can't judge books from 60 years ago according to OUR standards today!" Fair enough. But I'm not reading this book to a child 50 years ago. I'm reading it (or not, actually - I haven't put it on my to-be-read list yet precisely because of this problem) to children NOW. Even when I was a kid, a mere 30 years after the book's publication, that part made me uncomfortable.

Am I saying you're bad for liking this book? Absolutely not. I like this book! Am I saying you shouldn't read this book to your children, or allow them to read it? Not necessarily. I certainly support you if that is your choice, but that's not what I mean to say. All I'm saying is that you should read this book yourself before you read it with your children (or use it in a classroom, especially if you have Arab students!), and decide for yourself the best way to approach this issue. It may be to find a way to skip that passage, or it may be to not read the book just yet (or at all - there are plenty of good books out there, choosing one always requires NOT-choosing another!) or it may be to discuss this part with your children and explain your views on the subject, or it may be that you think it's not a big deal. (I disagree with the last, but that's your choice.)

Other than that one thing, this is a very good book. It's just that that one thing is SO important. Please pre-read this book.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Jill (new)

Jill My 9yo just picked this book up. I appreciate your honesty about THAT chapter. She's at a reading level where I don't need to know specifically everything she's reading, but I plan on reading it TOMORROW, (as she most likely finished it the afternoon she got it). I want to know WHAT the book says/does, so I can have an educated sit down w/her about it. By having read it myself, I can ask a single question & know if she understands what is "not ok." and if she doesn't really get it, I'll be prepared w/examples from the book. I appreciate your honest review. Other mention the chapter, but don't really explain much about the issue.

message 2: by Larry (new)

Larry Well I guess the suggestion is too burn all of the books that fail to conform with today's hyper sensitivity. Jeez the Bendoin was pretty mild, compared to just about every evil Arab we see on 24 and Homeland and all manner of other entertainment.

Michele I think possibly you're over-reacting a little. I'm pretty sure that Arabs weren't the go-to ethnicity for bad guys in the 1950s when this book was written (or for that matter in the 1920s when it's set), so I don't think the author is falling back on some sort of racial prejudice, as you seem to be assuming. Second, how would it have been any different if Achmed had instead been Ivan, or Mbele, or Hans? All of those ethnicities/naitonalities have also been seen as "the enemy" by Britain at one time or another, so would that have made the book any better (or worse)? Third, I think the text makes clear that he isn't actually EVIL; he's down on his luck and sees the sudden appearance of the four kids as a way to make a buck without much effort.

message 4: by Mel (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mel I very much agree with you, Connie, and I don't think you are being oversensitive. It is an issue that I'm sure many adults today probably care about, for good reason. That doesn't mean it's not a very good, enjoyable book, of course. I would generally be careful with older books in general, as it seems that they are sometimes prone to these sorts of issues.

Alfreda Morrissey This could also be used as a teaching moment to open up about racism. I myself as a kid never noticed that stuff. I was so naive I just glossed over those details.

Amanda Lubyk I agree with Alfreda, it is definitely a teachable moment.

Where I grew up white was the minority and racism was not tolerated.

I believe we can teach our kids to look beyond the ignorance a of the past, be grateful for the present and hopeful for the future. Most importantly, it is worth noting the growth mankind has taken in general in this area. It's a praiseworthy step in the right direction (the truth being that all of us humans on this earth are equal, period).

Reece Rhode I love this book too is very inspiration in a child's life I hope I get every inspired to wish and see if it comes true but I hope they wish careful

George Several of Bodecker's illustrations are more or less caricature--esp. the bowler-hatted adult male that the children's mother finds interesting. Achmed's big nose and scruffy beard aren't any uglier than that white guy's pince nez. (While his camels are perfectly charming--and not any more realistic.)

Also, I refuse to accept that making him an Arab is necessarily racist any more than making him a man is sexist. (If there's actual anti-Arab material, that's different. I'm basing this on less-than-perfect memory a Net search.)

Yes, it has unfortunate resonances today, and may be worth discussing w/ (an) immature and/or historically ignorant reader(s). But I'm pretty sure it's not the only element worth discussing.

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