Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The 13th Is Magic

The number of books I read as a child was monumental. And I remember a surprising number of them -- not the plot, not even necessarily the characters, but whether I liked them or not.

If they spoke to me then they were my friends. I remembered where they were shelved (and God help me if they ever re-shelved because I didn't cotton onto the Dewey Decimal System until my second year of high school. "Oh, that's what those little numbers are for!" Besides, in fiction there weren't little numbers, only letters. Bad system.)

One book I went back to over and over and over was called The 13th is Magic. I must have checked it out and read it a dozen times while I was in elementary school. It was written by Joan Howard who, as far as I knew then, had written no other books (I checked the library catalogue). In fact she had, both as Joan Howard and as Patricia Gordon. But as far as I knew The 13th is Magic was a one-off.

And what a one-off it was. . .

Later I tried to remember why I was so enamored of it. So I tracked it down on inter-library loan. You can imagine the librarian's surprise at that request. But she ordered it and a few weeks later, it appeared. And I held it in my hands again after nearly half a century (yes, I'm that old). I was almost afraid to open it for fear of being disappointed.

I needn't have worried. It was every bit as wonderful as I remembered.

The blurb for it says: 'New York is a magic city where almost anything can happen - especially if you live on the 13th floor of an apartment house on Central Park West. Now of course, since most people are superstitious there is no real 13th floor in hotels or apartment houses, and the one where Ronnie and Gillian live, although it is right above the 12th, is called the 14th. It is not until the day they find the black cat Merlin that they discover the magical 13th floor...''

And that's exactly what it's about -- a world full of promise, of possibilities, of potential for wonderful things to happen.

Just exactly what the wonderful things were escaped me at the time -- and they escape me now -- though I could go downstairs and look as I found a copy in a used bookshop in Wales a couple of years ago and gave it to myself for Christmas.

What was important about it was 1) that Miss Howard didn't write down just because she was writing for children. In fact the book was witty, charming and literate, every bit as readable by an adult as by a child, and 2) it promised adventure. It was a book about what might be, what could be . . . what if . . .

It excited my child's imagination. It tantalized and intrigued. It delighted. It still does.

And it had a cat.

Sid would say, 'Of course it had a cat. All wonderful books have cats.'

And while I'm not sure I would go that far, The 13th is Magic had a wonderful cat. Merlin was a cat of promise. He was the cat-alyst of the story, after all. Without Merlin none of it would ever have happened.

I'm thinking I need to give the fictional Sid a bigger part in Flynn and Sara. Maybe things will move faster if I do.

Got any favorite books you'd like to share? Kids books or otherwise? C'mon, Kate, I know you do.


Blogger Kate Walker said...

Favourite books? You're asking me to share favourite books??

Do you have a year - or more - to chat?

OK, so even if we confine this discussion to favourite kid's books . . . Well, you kow of the magic that was Simona's Jewel - and before anyone looks that one up, I'm going to state here and now that I did not read that when it first came out!

Oh now you've started things - Simona's Jewel, The Romney March books by Monica Edwards, the historical novels of Ronald Welch . . . KM Peyton . .

It's no good - all I want to do now is to go away and read -reread - all of these. And Mary Stewart . . . and

I can see I'm going to have to join you in blogging about books I have loved


And Sid's right - cats make wonderful books. They're not essential (don;t tell him I said that!) but they do add a certain je ne sais quoi - which is why he (and I ) want you finish Flynn so we can read about Sid's starring tole in there. And the Irish Wolfhound - and does Wriggle have a bounce on role?

18 April, 2007  
Blogger Kate Walker said...

MARSH - that should ne the Romney MarSh books by Monica Edwards - but now that's reminded me again - Rosemary Sutcliffe - Eagle of the Ninth - Sword in The Stone by TH White . . . .

18 April, 2007  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Yes. Yes and yes and yes. I remember Eagle of the Ninth (and yes, Michelle, I know they found the Ninth, but it's still a good story).

And yes to KM Peyton, who as a writer is probably my all-time favorite, but whose books I didn't read until I was taking my children to the library and while they were absorbed in picture books, I would find my own stash of books to read.

Wriggle may bounce on. We might even get to Ireland in this next chapter. Cross your fingers.

18 April, 2007  
Anonymous george s. comtois said...

Spent my summers on Fire Island in the forties & early fifties. Made friends with Pat Gordon and her husband Rene Prud'Hommeaux, also an author, Sunken Forest eg. Used to type Spencer Spook stories on the typewriter in their living room. They were very kind and interesting people who put up with an intrusive kid. Mrs. Prud'Hommeaux (aka Pat Gordon & Joan Howard) gave me a copy of the 13th Is Magic and inscribed it as well. I still have it and read it every few years. It's always enjoyable, and brings back a flood of childhood memories.

10 January, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

George, many thanks for your post and for sharing your own memories of Joan Howard (aka Mrs Prud'Hommeaux) and her husband. I'm envious of your inscribed copy! But I managed to track a copy down online and bought it from a bookshop in Wales a few years ago so at least I have my own now. I re-read it this past summer. Still wonderful.

I've promised my granddaughter that next time she comes to visit she can read it as well.

I like the thought of Spencer Spook, too!

10 January, 2009  
Blogger Jenny Schwartzberg said...

I also have a childhood copy of The Thirteenth is Magic, and I also have a copy of the sequel, The Summer is Magic (1952). Joan Howard also wrote under the pen name Patricia Gordon a book, The Witch of Scrapfaggot Green (1948) that I recently discovered. Go find them and enjoy!

24 May, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Jenny, thank you! There's a sequel? Fantastic. I'm off to Bookfinder right now.

I have three of her Patricia Gordon books, my favorite being, The Boy Jones. But none of them is quite up to The 13th is Magic. I still smile when I re-read it.

I'll have a look for The Witch of Scrapfaggot Green, too.

Thanks again!

25 May, 2009  
Anonymous meg said...

Thank you for your info on this book that I've been trying to track for about 20 years or more!!!!! I couldn't remember the name or the author--only that there was an elevator that stopped at the 13th floor! No one had ever heard or read such a story, and no one had a clue how to track it down. Now, finally, there is a name... and even several people who also loved it!!! Is there a way you know to obtain a copy without going to Wales or paying exorbitant prices (I can't believe what amazon is asking!!!!!!). I just can't believe that after all these years of yearning and trying, there isn't a copy SOMEWHERE. PLEASE, can u help???

31 May, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Hi Meg,
Ah, another fan! Wasn't The 13th is Magic a wonderful book?

It holds up very well, too. I was as enchanted when I read it again a few years ago as I was when I read it as a child. And, as you can see from Jenny's comment above, there is a sequel. I just bought the sequel (the only affordable one I could find).

As for how to get a copy of your very own, I suggest you keep checking on "Bookfinder.com" for used copies and maybe create a "google alert" so you know if one turns up somewhere.

If you just want to read it again, do what I did before I found my own copy: I got it on inter-library loan through my public library. It came from a small town about 80 miles from me which still had it in the children's book collection. After I saw how much I still loved it, I started looked for an affordable copy. And yes, mine did come from Wales! But it wasn't as expensive as the ones I see now.

Good luck! I'm glad there are more people who remember the book so fondly.


31 May, 2009  
Anonymous meg said...

Hi Anne,
Thanks sooooooo much for answering!!! It's AMAZING
that all of a sudden, after 20 yrs of trying to track down this childhood favorite,suddenly so many people
have identified the book...and loved it,too!! --and even own it!!!
Is the sequel as good??(how could it be, really...). I'd like to know your opinion.
Also, how does one create a 'google alert'?
The ones for sale are just ridiculously exorbitant. I wonder why!? It was a WONDERFUL book, but why gouge prices when they could make people SO happy with just a simple copy??????? And those who don't even care about the story itself but are hoarding it just for the price to go up......that is just too unbelievable.
Thanx again,

09 June, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Hi Meg,
I have no idea why the book is so expensive on 'used book' sites. I guess because there is a demand for it -- but the prices I have seen lately are ridiculous, I agree. It would be great if they would reprint it. I know my kids would have loved it, too, and I have a granddaughter, age 9, who would think it was a fabulous book. I'll have to let her read mine.

If you have a gmail account (and maybe it works with other email accounts as well), you can go to google and type in "alert" and then follow the directions. Put in the title of the book or whatever you want to look for, and save it, and google will send you an alert when something turns up online that contains those key words (be sure to put the title in double "quotations marks"). That way, if something turns up about it -- you'll know. You can do the same thing with an alert on ebay in case someone sells a copy there.

I haven't read the sequel yet. I have a book of my own to finish by next week. Once it's done, I'll read it and post a blog piece about it. So check back! You'll know when I do if you put "The 13th is Magic" in a google alert because you will get an 'alert.'

09 June, 2009  
Anonymous meg said...

Thanks again!!! Now I have google alert! Your info and directions were gr8!!!
Now, I just hope for a positive (affordable) response!!!
...and your opinion on the sequel

09 June, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Meg, Fingers crossed that you will happen upon an affordable copy soon. In the meantime, try getting it on Inter-library loan. I haven't checked Google Books to see if it is there in 'limited preview.' If so, you can read a bit in that format.

Keep me posted if you get a copy! I want to know if you think it stands up to 20 years distance. I did! Only in my case it was closer to 50!

09 June, 2009  
Anonymous meg said...

Hi Anne, I've tried writing back but each time the post doesn't go thru. (??????).Have you started the sequel yet??? I wouldn't have the self control you do, to wait!!
I've put thru a interlibe loan in two places where I have contacts. There are libraries that carry it but one needs contacts to pick it up.
Recently, I searched thru over 50 boxes at a book sale, but the older books are scarce. Do you know if it was ever in paperback? as I mostly skipped over those. There were a few E. Eager books which brought back happy memories, and seem to have been reprinted, thank goodness. But, the search is still on. [sigh] As for the 20 yrs...that was only since my children were born! My search,however languid at the beginning, started 20x2 yrs ago. And I'm sure it stands up. I'd always wished for a weekly reader copy.We didn't buy books when I was younger. On my own, I started seeking it but by then, I couldn't remember the exact title, and most bookstores were not helpful. I guess I figured it would show up somewhere, never thinking it would

16 June, 2009  
Anonymous meg said...

Hi Anne, It's been a long while, have you read "The Summer Is Magic" yet? Did it measure up????

09 July, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

I just started reading it, Meg. So far, so good. It's got the same feeling as The 13th is Magic -- and many of the same characters make an appearance. I'm enjoying it a lot. I could finish it quickly if I could ever sit down and just 'read' instead of having to do umpteen things. But my granddaughter, almost 9, is arriving today, and she will read it -- and the first one -- while she's here, and I'll be back to report her opinion, too.

10 July, 2009  
Anonymous meg said...

Thank you for answering.
Lucky, lucky you : )

12 July, 2009  

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