Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer was published in 1966. I remember purchasing it from the Book Mobile when it came around to my school.
One of my most treasured childhood books, I read it until it was tattered around the edges. Even into adulthood, the book was proudly displayed on my bookshelves. Alas, it succumbed to paper mites in storage during an unpredictable time in my life.
I recently searched for the book on Amazon. I figured it is a children’s book, surely there would be copies available.
And there were: priced from $33.24 for a used copy to $529.00 for a hardcover copy.
I found a used copy for five bucks and considered myself extremely fortunate to find it. Even better: though the retailer described the condition of the book as “Acceptable” it looks practically brand new. The characters in the book believe the doll – named Elizabeth, hence the title – is magical. After finding the book for only five dollars, I’m beginning to believe.
It was a quick read and I enjoyed every moment of it. The cover of the Scholastic book I had as a child was brown; this cover is entirely different. But the interior of the book is exactly the same, right down to the grayscale drawings I remember. As I read it, it was almost as though I had read it just the day before.
It is a story of eight year old Sally staying with her elderly Aunt Sarah while her parents are away on business. The two slowly warm up to each other. Once Sally discovers the mystery of a missing doll from a previous occupant of the house – also named Sally – she sets about solving the mystery.
It is a simple story. There is no real intrigue and the mystery isn’t much of a mystery, not to mention the mystery is actually solved by the cat.
But at the age of seven or eight, it was a wonderful read. Truth be told, it is still a wonderful read, even at my current age.
You see, every book we read holds memories of the reading. I recall reading Magic Elizabeth at my grandmother’s house during the summer, nibbling on a crabapple, even though I was forbidden to snag crabapples from the tree. I remember reading it lying upon my bed at home, curled beneath a quilt handmade by my mother and grandmother during the winter. I remember being amazed at the dream sequences, wondering if perhaps Sally did actually travel back through time to experience the other Sally’s life.
I recall vividly the wonder I felt about that idea. I still feel wonder at stories of time travel and realize it all began with this book.
It doesn’t matter how simple the story, it is the memories the story captures that truly matter. The memories captured by Magic Elizabeth are of a simpler time, a younger age, and a world of astounding beauty and simplicity.
I feel it is a shame, really, that books like Magic Elizabeth, The Boxcar Children and The Six Bullerby Children (which I have never read but would love to) are not reprinted for today’s youth. Simple though they may be, perhaps it is something from which today’s youth could benefit. Instead of inundating them with electronic devices, slamming them with advertising telling them who they should be, and drowning them in celebrity rubbish, give them some things these children’s books have in common: hope, belief, wonder and imagination.
And something even more simple: honesty; honesty in the writing, honesty in the characters.
Just like the doll in the story, now that I have found the book, Magic Elizabeth will never again leave my sight. She will be wrapped in plastic and never again subjected to storage, no matter what happens.
Because, just like the children in the story, I believe the doll truly is magical.
And so is the book.