Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Waiting for the Magic

Waiting for the Magic

Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator:  Amy June Bates 
For ages 8 to 12
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011   ISBN: 978-1416927457

Early on a summer morning Will’s parents have an argument which ends with Papa leaving the house. He leaves Will and his sister Elinor notes telling them that he is going “off to do some writing,” and that is it.

Soon after William and Elinor find their notes, Mama tells them that they are going out. The three of them get in the car and Mama announces that they are going to get a dog. Papa never wanted a dog and so now that he has walked out (no one knows for how long) Mama is going to get a dog.

This is a pretty dramatic turn of events, which gets even more dramatic when Mama adopts not one dog but four. And a cat. The family comes home with Bryn, Bitty, Grace, Neo and Lula the cat, and in no time they all settle in. Neo takes it upon his big puppy self to look after Lula the cat. Grace is Elinor’s shadow, and Bryn is completely devoted to Mama. Mama mentions that she wishes Bryn could do some of her chores for her and Elinor comments on how it would be magic if Bryn could do such things. William firmly believes that “There is no such thing as magic,” but Elinor, who is only four, is wise enough to know better. Elinor has not lost her ability to tap into magic yet, and she knows that magic is real because she can understand what the animals say.

One morning, at the breakfast table, Mama tries to talk about Papa’s behavior but it is hard for her. Elinor has no problem asking questions, but Will cannot seem to say anything because the situation is so confusing and quite frankly it scares him. The dogs understand that the boy is struggling, that he is afraid that if he speaks freely he will make his mother cry. Will is trying to protect his mother and sister as best he can by saying nothing.

When Gran and Grandfather come for lunch one day, Elinor finds out that they too can hear the animals. They even talk about it. Will thinks that they are making the whole thing up, but Gran explains that Will is simple not young, not old, or “not brave enough” to be able to access the magic around him. Will has no idea how to respond to this.

On another morning Mama once again gathers the family around the breakfast table and, with great difficulty, she tells her children that she is going to have a baby. Will is surprised that Mama has not told Papa the news yet. In fact he is upset that she hasn’t, and he tells her that it is not fair to keep the news from Papa. He finally speaks up, even though he knows his words might upset Mama.

Will tries to explain how he feels, which is when he hears words in his head, the perfect words that he wants to share with Mama. Will looks at Neo and he knows that the dog is the one who gave him those words. Will has heard Neo because he is speaking up and being brave. The magic is now there for him too.

The next morning Papa comes to visit. Mama told him the news about the baby and he has come home. Will does not know what to think and he wonders if Papa will stay. He does, though he sleeps on the sofa at night. The dogs watch over Mama, and Papa seems to understand that this is the way things are going to be. He accepts the new order in the house quietly. After all, he was the one who walked out.

Will wants to understand why Papa left and Papa tries to explain, but he is not very good at it. He wanted to have some space so that he could write a book, and he thought he needed to leave home to find that space, to find the “magic” to create something. Some time ago Neo, who once lived with a writer, told Will that writers need to work hard to write a book. Magic has nothing to do with the process. Will shares these words of wisdom with Papa, who agrees that Will is probably right.

It turns out that Papa does, in fact, ending up finding magic, but not in the way he expects. Just like Will, when Papa finds the courage to do something hard, the magic finds him.

This truly magical book explores how a family copes when one of their number loses his way. Thankfully, help is at hand. Four dogs and one cat set about helping the family members to come back together, and to find the inner courage that they need to share their feelings, to be true to themselves and others, and most importantly of all, to freely give their love.