Flashback Fridays: Grandfathered in . . .

You’re a kid who figures life is pretty ordinary, and that you’re pretty ordinary yourself, even if your grandad is sort of weird and might be a little off his rocker.  But then one day you discover that your grandad isn’t crazy–he’s a magician, and he can do real magic.  And if he can do real magic, maybe so can you . . .

Do you remember:

The Magic Grandfather by Jay Williams (Scholastic, 1979)

Sam has just discovered his strange grandfather is a REAL magician.  Not just fancy card tricks and rabbits out of the hat, but real magic.  When Grandpa lets Sam in on his little secret, he agrees to perform some actual magic for him.  But there are rules to spellcasting, and for this particular summoning, Sam must stay absolutely silent. Of course things go wrong when Sam forgets and blurts out an exclamation, sending the spell into a tangled mess and sending his grandfather to another world.  Now it’s up to Sam to fix the mess and reverse the spell–but how can he do that if he has no magic of his own?

This is one of those books that’s aimed at young readers just getting a taste for fantasy fiction.  Oddly enough I think the characters were said to be a bit older than they really acted in the story–but I can’t remember quite enough to determine that for certain.  This was probably one of my earliest contemporary fantasy stories, along with Ruth Chew’s collection of witches and wizardry.  Looking back on it, I’m not sure that the writing holds up all that well, but I vividly remember  Sam being so desperate to figure out magic and get his grandfather back–and how he makes himself sick trying.

He does succeed in the end, of course–along with the help of a headstrong girl who –I think–is a classmate.  The two of them desperately try to recreate the spell, and inadvertently pull another being from that dimension before finally getting the whole thing right.  I loved these kinds of magical tales that made it feel like ordinary kids in the ordinary world could encounter the extraordinary.  That it didn’t necessarily even take a trip through a portal and an epic fantasy adventure in a pseudo medieval world to have magic show up.

Jay Williams is probably best known for his work on the Danny Dunn series which he co-authored with Raymond Abrashkin and continued to write after Abrashkin’s death.  The author wrote quite a number of speculative fiction stories for kids, though they remain mostly out of print.  If the dates I’m finding are correct, this book was actually published the year after Jay Williams died, so it would be the last book he wrote.  I’ve a great fondness for this story, though I don’t think it his best work.

For other young reader contemporary fantasy reading Ruth Chew‘s books were written about the same time frame, but seemed to have held up a bit better.  At least some of her titles were reprinted just last year and can be found in the bookstores and on library shelves.  Quite possibly the best thing about all these kinds of books is that they came in an inexpensive paperback form and were usually the type of thing we found on the Scholastic book order sheet.

There’s nothing quite like getting to pick out and own your own copy of a book for the first time–and those book order forms fed my reading for many years, still have a few of the books I ordered back then.

So, this particular title’s pretty obscure, anyone else out there read it?  What did you think?

Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on February 8, 2014, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. That sounds fun! I haven’t read it, but I remember loving his “The Practical Princess” in Cricket magazine, and found the picture book Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like more recently.

  1. Pingback: My 400th Post: What Brought Me This Far: 100 Books in my Blood | Views From the Tesseract

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