Waiting for the Magic has quickly become my favorite work by Newberry-Award-winning author Patricia MacLachlan. The story is told through the eyes of Will, who is about 10-12 years old. The story opens with Will receiving a note from his father apologizing for the fact that he is leaving. HIs father has also left a note for his four-year-old sister Elinor, to whom Will must read it. Will tears his note into little pieces and throws them in the trash.
Immediately following this, Will’s mother loads both kids in the car and they head to the local Animal Shelter to get a dog. Once there, Will’s mother shocks them again by purchasing not just one dog, but four. AND a cat! The animals become part of their family, each animal gravitating toward one particular family member.
It quickly becomes evident to Will that Elinor is talking to the animals–and thinks they are talking back to her. And the dogs are, indeed, speaking to Elinor. She can hear them because four-year-olds still believe in magic. Will can’t hear them because he is consumed by his own feelings of anger and confusion and sadness at his family situation.
I must confess here that I am a dog person. I love dogs. I have two and I don’t know how I would be able to live my life contentedly without one at this point. They are an amazing source of unconditional love and comfort. They seem to sense our emotional states and stand beside us inside of them without judgement–something we often struggle to do for each other as human beings.
This instinctual love and power of healing is the main focus of the story. Will finds his way through his feelings about his father’s departure, and later, through his feelings about his father’s return. The entire family begins to grow and heal itself, becoming stronger and more loving with subtle prods from the animals who have joined their family. Will is amazed to discover that his grandmother can also hear the dogs speaking. He is further taken aback when she tells him that he cannot because he is too afraid. It is a joyful thing to follow Will on his journey to discover his courage by finding his voice with his father, and the path back to Magic.
This book is delightful, sweet and moving without being TOO sweet. It’s a wonderful read-aloud for younger and middle grades (through 5th grade). It opens the door to discussion of many issues from family, to feelings, to animals. It’s a wonderful mix of animal characters within a contemporary realistic fiction structure.
Because the father’s character is a writer, the story provides MacLachlan with a vehicle to expound to a certain extent on her own views of writing as both an art and a career choice. She equates writing in equal parts with hard work, dedication and a touch of “magic.” As a writer and educator myself, I felt those moments within the story enhanced my personal connection to it as well.
Children and adults who feel a connection to animals (or have felt a special connection to one animal in particular) will identify with the characters in Waiting for the Magic. I found this book to be one of those that literally warmed my heart as I read it. Once I started it I didn’t want to put it down and I found myself smiling a kind of silly, happy smile while I was reading it. I highly recommend this book for readers of ALL ages.