What do you think of when you think of Houdini? If you're like me, you think of handcuff and straitjacket escapes. Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini explores these traditional escapes, but also features the Chinese Water Torture box (featured on the cover of the book), and other new tricks such as making an elephant disappear and walking through a brick wall. Newberry Award winning author Sid Fleishman also introduces a Houdini that you might not know: magazine publisher, movie star, promotional wizard, debunker, flyer, and book collector.
One thing that adds interest to this book is that the author is a magician himself, so he writes with a respect for the craft, and yet also with realism. He often repeats that there is no real magic, only tricks or sleights of hand, and yet, as a true magician, he never reveals the secrets. The back of the book does include a great bibliography for those interested in magic or Houdini specifically, and the author does alert the reader to which books do reveal the secrets behind the magic if that's what interests you. It also features photos and playbills, many from the author's own collection that have never before been published.
I think that this would make a great gift for a boy (or girl) interested in magic or showmanship. It was a great read for me (confirming my thoughts to look for my biographies in the juvenile section of the library), and I think that older kids interested in magic and stunts, or the early 20th century would find this fascinating. The reading level is probably most appropriate for 5th grade and up, but it could be a read-aloud for younger elementary age kids. The only thing that might be objectionable to some are the frequent references to the spiritualism/seance movement that was very popular at the time, which is presented within the framework of Houdini's disbelief and lack of respect.
This book was nominated for the Cybils in the Middle Grade/Young Adult Non-fiction category. Click HERE to check out other nominations and other categories, or nominate your own. Nominations close November 20.