Magic blossoms from between hard covers

Magic began to arrive two weeks ago.

One specimen came clean and free from markings. Two others had that telltale blond envelope glued to the inside page.

"Withdrawn from the Fort Worth Public Library," the envelope read.

It included all the important data. Children. Fiction. Eager. East Regional. Knight's Castle.

The librarian had forgotten, though, to type the word "magic."

After decades wishing for hardcover copies of my favorite set of children's books, I had found every one.

My set was incomplete because my sister, Suzie, and I had argued over who would get which book when we left home as young adults. She was a far more powerful personality than I and won my very favorite, "Knight's Castle." I was left with one in hardcover - the pleasant but less exciting "Well Wishers.

But last week, I finally had them all in hardcover - every one: "Half Magic," in a reissued 50-year anniversary edition; "The Time Garden," in a rusty red cover; "Seven-Day Magic," also from the Fort Worth library; "Magic By the Lake," with its original paper cover; and "Magic or Not?"

For years I had read and reread the whole series in worn paperback editions. Their spines had cracked. They were spotted and torn.

I mourned the stability of the hardback covers I remembered from childhood. I wanted the pages firmly and lovingly held.

I've read each one at least two dozen times. When a flu knocked me off my feet; when work was so overwhelming that the books provided the only real escape I could treat myself to; after surgery, when doctors insisted I be still.

I read the books to my son, Erik, when he was very young. He read them all again, and more than once, when he was older.

We still have the little knightly figure I bought Erik when he was 5 or 6, the one that resembles the Old One who brings the magic of Ivanhoe to the children in "Knight's Castle."

Edward Eager wrote several of the series before I was born. While "The Time Garden" includes a wonderful chapter on the Underground Railroad, the books were not written with diversity in mind.

Surely, today's children would find some aspects of these stories incomprehensible. Their main characters, generally ages 8 through 12, read and reference poetry and books that today's libraries confine to the "Great Literature" section (which often means they don't get read at all).

But the books are still magical.

I love Edward Eager's humor and charm. I love how the children struggle with their wishes, learn what giving means and become wiser - all without any heavy-handed moralizing from the author.

I especially love that even the bad or mean characters are hilarious. They do not frighten. Eager never gives a child a nightmare. That cannot be said of today's more popular books and movies that are said to be "intended" for children.

I am rereading the whole series just now. I have my reasons.

They heal. They make me laugh.

They are magic.