Posts Tagged ‘Eager Readers’

BBT: Eager Readers!!!

Monday, June 8th, 2009


Because I ended up posting Wendy’s comments on the blog yesterday… she’s our BBT Eager Reader today!  I love what Wendy has to say about Eager, especially her thoughts on his “borrowing” from Nesbit.  I, myself, “borrow” a lot and I prefer to be very obvious about it…

I think one of the things I loved best about Edward Eager books was the extreme ordinariness of the children and the world they lived in.  The kids in Eager books get bored, get disappointed, and have to go Baltimore instead of the Rockies.  They continually irritate each other and do stupid things.  But they have MAGIC.  Any child, reading these books, would have to feel like magic is waiting for them, too, if they wish on the right coins.  (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rubbed a sprig of thyme and sniffed, half-hoping I’d be sent back in time.)

You also get the feeling that the kids find ordinary things just as exciting and almost magical as the real magic: picnics with individual box lunches, going to a movie, swimming in the ocean, going to the library, and so on.  That’s how I felt as a kid about those things, and, of course, it’s even more how I feel about my childhood looking back on it as an adult.

The magic is necessary for me, though.  I’ve only reread Magic or Not? and The Well Wishers a couple of times (versus… I don’t know how many for the others.)  I just want to whisper to the kids that REAL magic is much better, and they ought to go get some.  It’s interesting: it seems there’s a large faction that think these two were Eager’s masterpieces, and the rest of us don’t care for them much at all; no one in between.

I’ve also read a review or analysis that claims The Time Garden is widely acknowledged to be Eager’s weakest work.  I don’t know who widely acknowledged that, but I don’t find it to be true.

As for the Nesbit issue… when I finally got around to reading some Nesbit–I was probably about 12, and it was The Enchanted Castle–I was sort of distressed.  I knew, of course, that Eager’s books were all Nesbit homage, but I didn’t expect them to be THAT close.  I thought they would just be sort of in the same style.  I was sad to acknowledge that Eager wasn’t as creative as I’d thought.  I enjoyed The Enchanted Castle, but haven’t picked up another Nesbit since then, maybe because I wanted to avoid cognitive dissonance.  But, scandalous as it is, I do sort of think that Eager’s books have aged better (except for the sexism and racism, of course, but these are what I expect to find in books written at that time).  The dialogue is snappier and funnier, and the prose is simpler.  Of course, I should probably READ some more Nesbit before I go around making statements like that–that’s what Eager wanted, after all.

Maybe that can be a summer project.  I’ve always been glad that he was so very blunt about borrowing from Nesbit–there are other authors who borrow almost as much and don’t acknowledge it.

Yep!  I’m a big believer in stealing openly.  Best just to hang the title of “thief” on yourself.  Fits better that way.  And this makes me wonder if readers know of other authors who’ve stolen so shamelessly…

Nothing like a Classic…

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Okay, so I’m holding off on posting a new Eager Reader post because this conversation is so GOOD!  Please, go over to Mitali’s blog and vote in her poll about whether we should “update” classic books that are politically problematic today.

And also, I encourage everyone to read the comments thread in her post below.  People have put some real time into addressing the issue here, and they’re worth a read. Here’s one from Wendy, for a taste of the conversation!

It’s always difficult for me to respond to discussion about racism in Edward Eager’s books without feeling (and probably sounding) like an apologist. I don’t mean to do so.

I’m not going to say these books aren’t without problems. But let’s look at Achmed and how the children interact with him. (I haven’t got the book here, and the library is closed! I think I remember it well enough to respond, but please correct and forgive any textual errors.) Achmed appears as a stereotype, definitely, just as the desert setting is stereotyped–like all Eager’s fantasy settings, the kids find exactly what they expect to find; they’re always getting the “essence” of the desert or London or Arthurian England. Achmed’s portrayal is disturbing. But Eager also goes on to make him into a more complex character; someone beaten down by the world, who sees the kids as his last hope, but who really only wants the basic things anyone else wants of life–moderate prosperity, a wife and family. I love Achmed for including children in his heart’s desire.

Some people mention that it’s offensive that Mark greets Achmed with “How”, the stereotypical and misinformed way many of us absorbed as the “American Indian greeting”. It’s clear to me (and was clear when I was a kid) that Eager probably chose that greeting to make Mark look stupid, not because he himself was ignorant. Eager is playing with race and stereotypes here in a way that I think was fairly rare in middle-grade books at the time (just as in The Well Wishers the kids’ response is “Is that all?” when they find out why people didn’t want the family to move in).

The cannibal island in Magic By the Lake and The Time Garden is similarly problematic, but without the depth and redeeming features. I read it purely as fantasy, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse it. There is still the playing with stereotypes, though, when the islanders are perfectly familiar with safety matches. I remember that this made me think when I was a kid.

As for Mary Poppins, Laurel–PL Travers did the editing herself. I can’t argue with that. As I’ve often said, if I’d written something so offensive and only realized it later, I would totally want to go and take it back.

I don’t think there’s any point to re-editing Edward Eager’s books. If an editor was able to get the racism out, would s/he also be able to remove the sexism? And if so, who gets to decide what’s actually sexist and what’s anti-sexist? These things are deeply woven into the books. It’s not like in Mary Poppins, where changing one chapter doesn’t have much of an effect anywhere else. These books are period pieces, and I think it’s best to leave them as such. (I love to hear kids say things like “Can you believe what this author wrote in this book?”.)

BBT: Eager Readers!!!

Sunday, June 7th, 2009


Many wonderful bloggers and writers have sent me their thoughts on Eager, but I decided to begin my Backwards Blog Tour with the fabulous  Mitali Perkins, (prolific author, friendly blogger, and organizer extraordinaire) because while she loves Eager, she also addresses an aspect of his work that I find, as an adult reader, problematic.

Mitali says:

I grew up loving Edward Eager. As a kid, I skipped over the strange ethnic stereotyping I now notice in some of his books. Maybe it’s because when it came to issues of race, Eager won my trust with “The Well-Wishers,” a story published in 1960 about a black family moving into an all-white town. The book could read like another “white people should welcome black people” didactic tale were it not for the twist Eager added of tough guy Dicky LeBaron’s mentoring of the new kid Hannibal. At age 11, I moved into an all-white town myself. When Dicky advises Hannibal, “Be yourself, dad, and like it,” I felt like he was talking to me, encouraging me, giving me permission to be brown. Read in 2009, “The Well-Wishers” can still inspire kids that to take a stand against injustice, thanks to Eager’s strong characters, deprecating humor, and good intentions, otherwise known as well-wishing.

I’m so glad that Mitali wrote this, because I had absolutely forgotten about Hannibal!  The Well Wishers and its partner-book Magic or Not? are less “magical” than Eager’s other books, and as such, I (a goofy magic-loving child) read them less often.  But in general, I think we need to talk more about this issue of race and historical context!

It’s something  I have trouble hammering out, for myself.  I heard the other day that several classics have recently been “updated” (is this true? does anyone know anything more about it? Mary Poppins? Really?!)  I had a violent reaction to the idea. But… I also find myself uncomfortable with leaving the books as they are…  Remember Achmed the A-rab in Half Magic?


And we can’t just censor the book, right?


What do you think?

The Backwards Blog Tour: Eager Readers!

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

(yeah, this guy!)

NOW! Introducing and announcing with great fanfare!!! A brand-spanking new blog feature!  An invention!


Why a backwards blog tour? you ask…

No particular reason. Just seemed like fun!

What’s a backwards blog tour? you ask…

Well, instead of running around the blogosphere, answering other people’s random (and often repetitive) questions… I’m inviting other folks  here, to answer ONE question!

What question might that be? you ask…

Why, I’m glad you’re so curious!  The question is: WHAT DO  YOU REMEMBER/LOVE/ HATE ABOUT READING EDWARD EAGER? Hence the name of the blog feature: Eager Readers!

Now, right about this time you might be thinking, Hey, tthat sounds totally random, Laurel!

And it does sound random, I know…but  see, I have a reason for all of this madness.

Because my new book, Any Which Wall, is a tribute to Edward Eager.  Best known for having penned Half Magic, Eager in fact  wrote a slew of funny, imaginative books betwen 1952 and 1962.  In these books, regular children, living in America, encountered magic, made mistakes, and had a lot of fun in a an everyday way.  Eager really helped pave the way (along with his hero, Edith Nesbit) for all the magic books kids love today. Percy Jackson,  Potter, etc…

Though of course, he wasn’t perfect, and not everyone loves him as I do.  (and if you don‘t love him, please shoot me an email and tell me why!)

But in trying to learn more about him, and in attempting to track down his family, I hit brick walls everywhere.  There’s just not much to be found.  I went in search of his grandchildren, and came up empty handed…

So instead of skipping blithely around the blogosphere this month, talking about myself, and harassing you all with amazon links at every turn…  I thought I’d celebrate my book release by asking  the blogosphere to come over here, for a party, to discuss and share tidbits and memories about this mysterious man. Eagerly!

Do you loathe his treatment of women?

Do you admire his use of herb gardens?

Do you have a particular memory of something from one of his books?


I hereby beg for/ request/ welcome/ invite thoughts from other people who have memories or thoughts about the books and life of Edward Eager.  I’d welcome anyone’s comments, and will happily post anything I get at laurelsnyder (at)

Stay tuned for more!!!