Erich Weiss, more commonly known as Harry Houdini, apparently determined to become a performer as a young child. A Spotlight for Harry presents a fictional version of Houdini’s beginnings as an escape artist. In Eric Kimmel’s compelling early grade novel, young Harry attends a circus performance with his family, and is immediately spellbound. He and his younger brother Dezso (“Dash”) arrange to use a neighbor’s barn and rig themselves a tightrope. Through determination and lots of practice they learn to walk it; then Harry is ready to try another trick. After he hurts himself, he learns another valuable lesson about performing — all is not as it appears. Kimmel portrays Rabbi and Mrs. Weiss as warm and fairly easy-going, in contrast to most biographies of Houdini. Young readers will quickly grasp how Harry and Dash apply the lessons of persistence and confidence taught to them by the circus performer they befriend. Some children may be a little confused by the Weiss family speaking German though they are from Hungary. The author’s note explains that the story is based on events from Houdini’s life. Sources of additional information would have been helpful for readers whose interest is piqued, especially as this terrific book is likely to create lots of interest in the life of the great Harry Houdini. Ages 7 – 10.
Marci Lavine Bloch earned her MLS from the University of Maryland, a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA in English Literature from Fordham University. She has worked in synagogue and day school libraries and is currently finishing her term on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.