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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Picture Book of Harry Houdini, written by David A. Adler and Michael S. Adler and illustrated by Matt Collins. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2009. $8.95 ages 8 and up

"When he was twelve, Ehrich ran away from home. He wandered, did odd jobs, and performed magic whenever he could. For a time he joined a circus as an escape artist. He called himself "Eric the Great."

I'm thinking ahead a bit today, and want to share three books that I think would be a great addition to your home or classroom library, for a variety of reasons, and as Halloween approaches. Can that be true?

The first is the newest on my long list of picture book biographies, and will intrigue listeners with Harry Houdini's magical performances. It begins with a scene from backstage as his assistants prepare a water barrel for Houdini. We can see that his arms and wrists are shackled with iron. He promises his audience that his assistants will ensure his safety; and then he lets them seal the metal can with a lid and SIX heavy padlocks. Three minutes later, Houdini emerges...some escape artist!

This book by David Adler is just one in a long list of picture book biographies that he has written. They are popular because he does his homework and regales his readers with important events from the celebrated subject's life.

Ehrich Weisz had five siblings, a bleak life and not much promise for the future. He set to work early in order to help support his family. He worked hard at many jobs, but always took time to watch circus magicians if given the chance. When he was 17, he changed his name to Harry Houdini and the rest, as they say, is history. He set out to be the most famous magician in the world, working with his wife on stage and learning new tricks quickly. The magic show was fine; but Harry wanted to do more. He began developing his escape tricks in order to set himself apart. It was amazing to watch him escape from the most frightening spots:

"In Germany special cuffs were made to hold him, but they couldn't. And the theaters in England, Germany, France, and Russia couldn't hold all the people who wanted to see his shows."

His death was dramatic, and accidental. The world had lost one of its legends. The writing is entertaining and accessible for those wanting a taste for Houdini and his legacy. Matt Collins creates detailed and incredibly realistic images to help us know the man, his life, the setting and time, and his love of magic and performance. The perspective changes are especially dramatic.

A list of important dates, source notes, a selected bibliography, recommended websites and a telling author's note are added.  

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