by Edward Eager
Four bored children find an ancient worn coin and discover that it grants wishes- but the tricky part is that only half the wish comes true. Sometimes this is in a sensible way- if they wish to go a mile, they only go half the distance, but other times it is confounding with hilarious results. What does half a talking cat sound like? How do you only half remember your family (someone in a fit of anger wishes she belonged to a different family). The kids get into all kinds of interesting adventures- some intentional and some not. They travel back in time to joust with Sir Launcelot, stop some thieves in a jewelry store, get stranded in a desert and much more. Though they try to take turns and come up with fun things to do together, it becomes much more than just a way to fill a boring summer with excitement, and they have to put things right in the end.
I got this book at a used sale thinking my older daughter would enjoy it, but sat down and read it in one morning by myself. And it\’s great. Laugh-out-loud funny in parts, good characterization, a solid lesson about getting what you wish for. There\’s even some subtle family dynamics and pointers on behaving decently to other people, with the siblings squabbling, helping younger ones (or not) and the oldest daughter upset at her mother\’s interest in a possible suitor (only she of all the children remembers their deceased father). Even though it was published in the early fifties and is set a few decades earlier (motor vehicles are a new invention, messages are sent by telegram and when the children go to the movies, it\’s silent pictures so they get cross with the youngest for begging to have the words on the screen read out loud!) it\’s written in a way that still feels completely accessible.
I am pretty sure I once read this book from my elementary school library- I distinctly remember the cover. But I had forgotten almost everything except the basic premise, and I\’m sure most of the references went over my head back then- the author pays homage to E. Nesbit, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Anderson, T.H. White, Little Women and many other authors and literary works. It helps that the kids in the story love to read, and another main character owns a bookshop!
Rating: 4/5 192 pages, 1954