Children's Literature: Edward Eager

Edward Eager (1911-1964) is still fairly popular, especially since his books were re-issued a few years back with new Quentin Blake covers.  But I'm still going to talk about him!

He was born in Toledo, Ohio, went to Harvard, and dropped out before finishing.  But while he was there, he wrote a successful play and that led to his career as a lyricist and playwright, living in New York and Connecticut.  All of these elements show up in his stories, which he started writing when he wanted books to read to his son Fritz.

It's always easy to see from his books that he must have admired E. Nesbit very much, and indeed Oxford UP's page on him says that "In each of his books Edward Eager carefully acknowledges his indebtedness to E Nesbit, whom he considered the best children's writer of all time."

Original and current covers

Eager's seven books are very much like mid-century American versions of Nesbit's stories; they would be shameless ripoffs if he hadn't been so public about wanting his stories to lead kids to reading her.  A group of ordinary siblings accidentally find something magic, and have adventures with it.  His characters are usually a lot of fun, with plenty of personality.  I really like the illustrations, too--I can understand why the publishers had Quentin Blake do new covers, and they are great, but to my mind they don't really fit with the original illustrations that, happily, are still in the books.  So I'm a bit ambivalent about those.

Most people like Half Magic a lot, in which four siblings find a magic coin that grants wishes--but only half.  It's quite tricky to get a wish right in that case, and the kids' adventures are very funny. 

Five of the books are straight contemporary fantasy, and two--Magic or Not? and The Well-Wishers are not.  Those two (which go together) are more ambiguous about whether magic is really happening, and The Well-Wishers features a plot element about the first black family to move into a white town.

Here is a list of Eager's books, shamelessly lifted from Wikipedia:

  1. Half Magic (1954)
  2. Knight's Castle (1956)
  3. Magic By the Lake (1957)
  4. The Time Garden (1958)
  5. Magic Or Not? (1959)
  6. The Well-Wishers (1960)
  7. Seven-Day Magic (1962)


  1. I feel like I should have known about Eager, since he's from my home-state! I guess I do now. :) His books sound adorable.


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