Harry Houdini, master magician and electrifying escape artist, comes to life in this succinct, yet fascinating portrayal written by well-known biographer, David Adler and his son, Michael. Houdini’s meager beginnings trace back to Budapest, Hungary, where on March 24, 1874, he was born to Rabbi Mayer Samuel and Cecilia Weisz and named Ehrich. The Rabbi, wanting more for his growing family of six children, moved the family to Appleton, Wisconsin and Americanized their last name to “Weiss.” As a young boy, Ehrich tried to contribute to the family income and worked odd jobs from selling newspapers to shining shoes. His fascination however was always with magic; Houdini would carefully scrutinize the traveling circuses that came to town and perfect their tricks. At age nine, he was hired in his first professional capacity as a “Prince of the Air” to a three-rate circus. Shortly after, he took a position as an apprentice to a locksmith and learned how to open locks without a key! Bored with the confines of home, Ehrich ran away at age twelve and joined a circus as an escape artist, renaming himself “Eric the Great.” Returning home, he joined his nomadic family in New York City and continued to cultivate his passion for magic as the focus of his life. While studying a book, Memoirs of Robert-Houdini, a provocative account of 19th century French magician, Ehrich could not escape his destiny. He realized his life was meant to encompass magic and reinvented himself with the name Harry Houdini. Mastering amazing stunts of dangerous escape that often combined nails, ropes, and heavy steel in the world of magic. Highlights of the artist’s stunts are wonderfully depicted in dramatic and red tones. The authors’ thorough and careful research is reflected in insightful text that usesactual quotations attributed to Houdini and a complete appendix that includes a detailed timeline of Houdini’s life, a seclected biography, source notes, and a list of recommended websites. While this is an engaging beginning biography of a fascinating Jewish icon, it can work as a stepping stone and can be coupled with Kathleen Krull’s Houdini (Walker, 2007) which expounds on capturing Houdini’s eccentricities to a fuller extent and the lengthier Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman which includes rare black and white photographs. Grades 2 – 4.
Debra Gold has been a children’s librarian for over 20 years in the Cuyahoga County Public Library System. An active member of the ALA, she has served on many committees including the Caldecott, Newbery and Batchelder committees.