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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Harry Houdini, written by Janice Weaver and illustrated by Chris Lane. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011. $21.95 ages 10 and up

"In Bess, Harry found both a life partner and a new partner for his act. She was a tiny woman - less than five feet tall and under a hundred pounds - which made her a natural for squeezing in and out of the trunk in the Metamorphosis trick. And it turned out that audiences were more interested in a husband-and-wife magic act..."

I loved reading about Harry Houdini in this very accessible and compelling book. I had no real knowledge of him, and his life. That is no longer true!

Janice Weaver does a most commendable job of bringing this complicated and fascinating man to life.  As you can see from the cover, Harry Houdini had great presence. He was born in the late nineteenth century to a rabbi and his wife and was brother to four siblings. His birthplace was Budapest, but came to the United States and settled in Appleton, Wisconsin where his father led his synagogue for four years, before he was let go. This led to great poverty for a family of seven, and young Erich helped by working hard to help sustain them.

He left home when he was only 12 years old on a path to find a good life. While still quite young, Ehrich Weiss changed his name to Harry Houdini and began working in a sideshow. There, he toiled to reinvent himself and that led to fame and fortune throughout the world.

He lived a life of celebrity; a magician of renown, and then a brilliant escape artist whose feats dazzled the world and led to many imitators. He beat the Chinese water torture cell, handcuffs, jails and he tempted fate on many occasions. He worked hard but had luck on his side, too. His wife worked at his side, and encouraged his many feats. He was a great hit with his audience, offering to pay all in attendance if he failed in his attempts to escape from a wide variety of seemingly impossible predicaments. He never failed to support his family and left a legacy that spoke of the love he had for each of them.

The author adds winning sidebars that will up the interest for those who aspire to be magicians or those young readers with an interest in the history of the time and the world of sideshows and magic.
Using newspaper accounts and photographs, memorabilia, period advertisements and accompanied by the full color artwork created by Chris Lane, readers get a clear picture of life as it was lived by Houdini and his family.  

The section at the back that references further reading and websites will add to the wealth of information already shared in the text. An index also proves helpful. This would be another great addition to a collection of picture book biographies...and you know how I love those.

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