A Pic­ture Book of Har­ry Houdini

David A. Adler and Michael S. Adler; Matt Collins, illus.
  • Review
By – October 10, 2011
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.

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