The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay

“Green Magic” lurks in an ivy-covered house, in this delightful MG fantasy.

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay. Simon & Shuster (Margart McEldery Books), 2020, 229 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-14

Since the death of her mother, when Abi was too young to remember, the 12-year-old and her father and grandmother have lived comfortably in their London flat. Since the abandonment of their father, Max and Louis have gotten along fine with their mom in a rented house on the other side of town. But then their parents met, sparks flew, and the kids found themselves mashed into an uncomfortable family crammed in one too-small house with the lease running out. Their search for a new house leads them to an ivy-covered cottage with plenty of room—but also an outsized creep factor. It’s hard to put a finger on what it is, exactly, until Abi’s voracious reading becomes hazardous. Some stories have a way of becoming actual, such as when she’s doused with sea water while reading Kon-Tiki. More puzzling, and frightening, is the cat-like creature who begins visiting Louis at night. Louis doesn’t even read yet, so where does this emanation coming from? And why is it growing? And couldn’t it be dangerous? By the time Abi and Max figure out the creature’s origin, it’s almost too late.

The story doesn’t make a lot of sense upon reflection: “Magic,” as is often the case in stories like this, has too great a burden to bear when its origin or destiny remain unexplained. (Yes, it comes from books. But why??) But the author’s verve and style convey a sense of wonder that carries us onward. “Unordinary things are happening all the time now,” Louis observes, and Abi must admit that, though it’s scary, she is privileged to experience it.

Meanwhile, these ordinary children are learning to bond against a shared threat while demonstrating courage and determination. Max experiences another form of magic with his first real crush on his little brother’s 17-year-old French babysitter. Christian parents may be a bit uncomfortable with mentions of the girl’s pink bra straps under her t-shirt, but this awakening in a 14-year-old boy is perfectly normal and yet mystical in its own way. Perhaps, as the story suggests, the line between magic and reality is not as black and white as we make it.

Overall Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.75
  • Artistic/literary value: 5


  • There’s one use of the word “damned” as an adjective and one misuse of God’s name under stress.

Also at Redeemed Reader

  • Unexplained “magic” is a factor in children’s literature almost since the beginning of children’s literature. Janie wonders, Where does it come from?
  • Also by Hilary McKay: We love her “Lulu” series for early readers. See our starred review of Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door and type “Hilary McKay” in the search box for reviews of other books in the series.

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Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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