Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini

Fleischman, Sid. (2006). Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.

Newberry winner author, Sid Fleischman digs into the life and myth of the great Houdini, unraveling fact from fiction. Digging into the past Fleischman discovered that Houdini was born On March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary as Ehrich Weiss, not Appleton, Wisconsin as Houdini would later claim. Despite the fact that Houdini’s father, the Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss was well educated and possessed several degrees, the Weiss family struggled to make ends meet after immigrating to the United States and settling in Houdini’s claimed birthplace of Appleton, Wisconsin. Because of his family’s struggles Houdini dropped out of school and left home to find a job at the age of 12. Houdini went to work to support his family, eventually moving to New York with his father and sending for the rest of his when they had saved enough money.

It was in New York that Houdini discovered magic and took on the name Harry Houdini which he took from his mentor the famous French magician Robert-Houdin. At age 20 Houdini met 18 year old Bess Rahner and two weeks later they were married. Houdini added Bess to his act as his assistant and they performed and traveled together for the rest of their lives. Bess and Houdini were extremely devoted to each other; she stood by him for years while he tried to make a name for himself as a magician.

Houdini eventually achieved success and fame first in Europe and later in the United States. Crowds were mystified by Houdini’s ability to escape from virtually anything, including handcuffs, jail cells, straightjackets and more. He routinely performed publicity stunts in which challenged the local authorities to hold him in their most secure restrains, usually escaping in a matter of minutes. In this way Houdini sold out theater after theater.

Later in life Houdini launched a trade magazine for magicians and took to debunking Spiritualists who claimed they could communicate with the dead. Houdini also made ventures in aviation and in the movie industry. Houdini continued performing up until his death in 1926.

In Escape! Fleischman unravels the mysterious life of the great Houdini. Once a young magician himself Fleischman is careful to keep to the magician’s code and keep the mystery of the magic alive by refusing to reveal the secrets behind Houdini’s tricks. Fleischman’s writing is light and humorous and his book is sure to appeal to any young amateur magician.


YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2007

ALA Notable Book, 2007

Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, 2007 Honor Book

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