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  • The Magic Nation Thing
  • Written by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780440419310
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The Magic Nation Thing

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Abby O’Malley is a girl who likes things to make sense. School makes sense, and her best friend Paige makes sense (most of the time), but Abby’s flighty mother never makes sense. Abby’s mom seems to think that she and Abby are descended from a line of witches, and that they have special powers—psychic powers that don’t make sense at all. The problem is, Abby knows that she can do certain things that other people can’t. Sometimes, when she holds an object in her hand, she’s overpowered by sounds and pictures that show where the owner is and what he or she is doing. Abby thinks of this as her “magic nation,” because that is what her kindergarten teacher told her it was called. Now 11, Abby has an inkling that her teacher may have been saying it was her “imagination,” which unfortunately, she knows it is not. Now some things are happening in her mother’s detective agency—cases where Abby’s magic nation thing might come in handy. But does Abby want to admit that such a sensible girl could have such an unsensible power?

From the Hardcover edition.



Not long after Abigail O'Malley helped solve the Moorehead kidnapping case, a problem she'd had all her life took a definite turn for the worse. It was a personal and very secret problem that she'd never shared with anyone, not even Paige Borden, who was her best and closest friend. So embarrassingly personal, in fact, that she had never allowed herself to believe that it actually existed, at least not for sure.

Abby was twelve and a half years old when the kidnapping occurred, and in the seven years since her mother, Dorcas O'Malley, had become a private investigator, Abby had never gotten involved in any of her cases. At least not on purpose. And she had no plans to do so in the future. She had, in fact, made her feelings on the subject quite clear in an essay she'd written only a few days before Dorcas started work on the Moorehead case.

The essay was for Ms. Eldridge's seventh-grade language arts class, its title was to be "My Future Career," and it was supposed to be at least two pages long. Most of the class groaned when Ms. Eldridge gave the assignment. "Two whole pages on what you're planning to be someday? What if you haven't made up your mind?" Paige whispered.

"I thought you had," Abby whispered back, grinning. "You know. About being a movie star or a fortune-teller?"

"Don't laugh." Paige frowned. "I meant it."

Abby made her nod say "I know you did" and went back to her own list of career choices. Once she'd started, she found it wasn't so difficult after all. For one thing, she'd always been a list maker, so coming up with one of future careers was an interesting challenge. There were, she discovered, quite a few things she might want to do as an adult. But nowhere in the list was there one word about being a private investigator.

Abby's essay was going to say that her first and most important goal was to be a gold medalist in the Winter Olympics. After that, a career as either a ski instructor or a lawyer, like her father. Along with getting married and raising a big normal family (important word underlined). No mention of detective work.
The career choices were fairly recent, but the family thing Abby had always planned on, especially the normal part. Over the years she had changed her mind several times about future careers, starting with cowgirl when she was in kindergarten, and librarian when she began to love reading and was under the mistaken impression that all librarians had to do was sit around reading all day.

But being a private investigator had never been one of her choices. Not ever, in spite of the fact that she was the daughter of Dorcas O'Malley, who, according to Tree, was one of the best detectives in California. Or at least in northern California, where there were fewer crimes but the ones that did happen tended to be more original. That was what Tree said anyway, but then, Tree (short for Teresa Torrelli) was Dorcas's employee, and under the circumstances she'd probably felt it was the tactful thing to say.

But Abby had her own ideas about the O'Malley Detective Agency--ideas that were based on a lot more inside information. After all, Tree had been working for the agency only a couple of years, but it had been a big part of Abby's life ever since she started kindergarten. Which coincidentally was the same year her father had moved to Los Angeles and her parents got a divorce.

Before Abby's father, Martin O'Malley, moved away, the whole family, Abby and Dorcas and Martin, had lived in a great house in the Marina. But after the divorce they had to sell the house Abby had lived in since she was a baby so that Martin could pay for his apartment in Los Angeles and Dorcas could start the agency. Someone else owned the Marina house now, but Abby could still draw accurate floor plans of every room. And she still liked to look at it as they drove by and try to remember what living there had been like. Not that driving by happened all that often anymore. Not since Dorcas decided that mourning over a house wasn't a normal thing to do. Perhaps not, but to Abby's way of thinking, she'd lost a lot of other normal things right about then, and if drawing pictures of a normal house helped, she didn't see what was wrong with doing it.

After the divorce the O'Malley Detective Agency had set up shop in the two front rooms of a small shabby Victorian, and Dorcas and Abby moved into what was left over. Abby hadn't been quite six years old at the time, but she wasn't likely to forget how she'd had to practically live at Mrs. Watson's Day Care Center because of Dorcas's strange work hours. And how Dorcas had to worry all the time, not only about not getting enough clients, but also about things such as termites and leaky plumbing and unpaid bills. And Abby had to go without all kinds of things that most of the girls at her school got from their parents without even asking.

From the Hardcover edition.
Zilpha Keatley Snyder

About Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Zilpha Keatley Snyder - The Magic Nation Thing
“I think writing is an extension of a childhood habit—the habit of entertaining oneself by taking interesting bits of reality and building upon them.”—Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Zilpha Keatley Snyder is a three-time Newbery Honor winner, as well as the author of several ALA Notable Children’s Books, School Library Journal Best Books, and books that have received the Christopher Award and the William Allen White Award.


Raised in California, in the country—with no television and few movies to watch—three-time Newbery Honor winner Zilpha Keatley Snyder filled her childhood with animals, games, and books. Among her earliest acquaintances were cows, goats, ducks, chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and horses. In fact, her family’s animals were her closest friends, and a nearby library was a constant source of magic, adventure, and excitement for her. And when she wasn’t reading or playing with animals, Snyder made up games and stories to entertain herself.

While Snyder was growing up, interesting stories filled her household. Both of her parents spent a lot of time relating true accounts of past events in their lives, so Snyder came by her storytelling instincts honestly. But unlike her parents, when Zilpha had something to tell, she had, as she says, “an irresistible urge to make it worth telling, and without the rich and rather lengthy past that my parents had to draw on, I was forced to rely on the one commodity of which I had an adequate supply—imagination.” Consequently, at the age of 8, Snyder decided to become a writer.

As a student, Snyder was very proficient at reading and writing and experienced few problems in the small country schools she attended until the end of sixth grade. But upon entering the seventh grade in the big city of Ventura, she was, as she recalls, “suddenly a terrible misfit.” Snyder retreated further into books and daydreams, and admits: “Books were the window from which I looked out of a rather meager and decidedly narrow room, onto a rich and wonderful universe. I loved the look and feel of books, even the smell. . . . Libraries were treasure houses. I always entered them with a slight thrill of disbelief that all their endless riches were mine for the borrowing.”

Snyder attended Whittier College in Southern California, which recently awarded her an honorary doctorate. There she also met her future husband, Larry Snyder. While ultimately planning to be a writer, after graduation Snyder decided to teach school temporarily. But she found teaching to be an extremely rewarding experience and taught in the upper elementary grades for a total of nine years, three of them as a master teacher for the University of California at Berkeley. Zilpha and Larry were married in June of 1950, and went on to have three children, Melissa, Douglas, and Ben.

In the early sixties, when all of her children were finally in school, Snyder began to think about writing again. “Writing for children hadn’t occurred to me when I was younger, but nine years of teaching in the upper elementary grades had given me a deep appreciation of the gifts and graces that are specific to individuals with 10 or 11 years of experience as human beings. Remembering a dream I’d had when I was 12 years old about some strange and wonderful horses, I sat down and began to write.” Season of Ponies, Snyder’s first book, was published in 1964.

Snyder’s novel, Gib Rides Home, is a vivid look at the life of an orphan in prairie country almost a century ago. The book was inspired by Snyder’s father, who grew up in a Nebraska orphanage and was farmed out as labor on nearby ranches.

Snyder lives in Mill Valley, a small town near San Francisco. In her spare time, she still loves reading and traveling, and, of course, writing, which besides being her occupation has always been her all-time favorite hobby. You can visit the Zilpha Keatley Snyder home page at www.zksnyder.com


“I began to write for children through the fortunate accident of nine years in the classroom. But I’ve continued to do so because over the years I’ve come to realize that it’s where I’m happiest. It is, I think, a matter of personal development (or lack of it, as the case may be). There are several peculiarities that I share with children which, like having no front teeth, are perhaps more acceptable in the very young, but which, for better or worse, seem to be a part of my makeup.

“First of all, there is optimism. Since growth and hope are almost synonymous no one begrudges a child’s natural optimism, but a writer’s is another matter. It’s not fashionable to write optimistically for adults nor, I must admit, even very sensible, given the world we live in today. But my own optimism seems to be organic, perhaps due to ‘a bad memory and a good digestion’ (a quote that I can’t attribute due to the aforementioned failing).

“Secondly, there is curiosity. Mine is as intense as a 3-year-old’s, but where a 3-year-old’s most obnoxious trait might be asking ‘Why?’ several hundred times a day, I am given to eavesdropping on conversations, peering into backyards and lighted windows, and even reading other people’s mail if I get a chance.

“And thirdly, there is a certain lack of reverence for factual limitations and a tendency to launch out into the far reaches of possibility.

“So I enjoy writing for an audience that shares my optimism, curiosity, and freewheeling imagination. I intend to go on writing for some time, and though I may occasionally try something for adults, I will always come back to children’s books, where I am happiest and most at home.”

—Zilpha Keatley Snyder


“The novel delivers an engaging glimpse of history as well as a compelling story.”—Starred, School Library Journal

“An exceptionally atmospheric and suspenseful tale.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“Only in the hands of a skillful writer would the characters emerge so lifelike that the reader feels that he knows each one. A brief review cannot do justice to the book, which has originality and verve in plot, style and characterization.”—Starred, Library Journal

“[The Gypsy Game] continues to offer Snyder’s well-nigh irresistible combination of suspense, wit and avowal of the imagination.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“Seen through Cat’s eyes, this story is both appealing and informative. . . . The characters are well drawn and beautifully motivated. . . . A compelling addition to Snyder’s superb body of work.”—Starred, School Library Journal

“This tender historical novel is as moving as it is insightful.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“Snyder’s setting and characters are beautifully realized. The moving conclusion is tempered with a bracing reality.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“The characters are pungent and believable, their interaction well-realized. . . . A grand, multileveled novel.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

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