Happy Birthday, Harry Houdini!

BookendsCindy: Today, March 24th, is the anniversary of Harry Houdini’s birth. Yesterday, we blogged about a new book for young magicians, and today we feature Brian Selznick’s magical art in his reissued book, The Houdini Box (originally 1991).

My sixth grade students are crazy about The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck and keep asking me for another book just like those. There really isn’t anything just like those, but recently one of my teachers asked me if I’d ever read The Houdini Box. I’ve read a lot of Houdini books, starting back in my own sixth grade years, but I missed this fictional story when it published originally.

Like a well-executed magic trick, reality is not the goal.
Illusion and suspension of disbelief are the trick.

Ten-year-old Victor wants to be just like Houdini. He locks himself in his grandfather’s trunk—and can’t get out. He tries to hold his breath for five thousand seconds in the bathtub, but his mother keeps making him get out to breathe! None of his attempts are successful. Houdini box It is soon thereafter that Victor chances upon Harry Houdini himself in a train station and blurts out his many questions for the grand escape artist. Houdini takes the name tag from Victor’s suitcase and promises to write a letter, saying he can’t reveal such important secrets in the middle of a busy station. The letter arrives, and it sets off a chain of even more coincidental events over the course of many years, culminating in the opening of a box that holds Houdini’s magical secrets.

Like a well-executed magic trick, reality is not the goal. Illusion and suspension of disbelief are the trick, and Selznik pulls it off in his story, accompanied by his signature artwork and reproductions of some original Houdini posters and playbills. There’s a possibility that we will see this book produced for the big screen someday. In the meantime, for more fun, check out this Teach Beside Me blog post highlighting a host of Houdini books, a video clip showing Houdini in action, and a simple magic trick that you can teach young Houdini fans…and links to much more. Happy Birthday, Harry!

MarvelsLynn: Happy Birthday, Harry, from me too! I was excited to read The Houdini Box as I hadn’t discovered it either and really enjoyed it. It was a lovely lead up for Brian Selznick’s newest book, The Marvels, which publishes in September. Recently we received a tempting sampler for this new book that teases us with a plot summary and some of the gorgeous illustrated pages. Like Wonderstruck, this new book has two stories, one told in pictures and one in words.  According to the sampler in The Marvels, this book opens with 400 pages of an uninterrupted illustrated story followed by a seemingly unrelated prose story. “Together they create a beguiling narrative puzzle.”  I can’t wait!



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

1 Comment on "Happy Birthday, Harry Houdini!"

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  1. Andrea says:

    Great titles! I also recently read a great middle grade novel involving a boy who travels back in time, via a magic trick, to meet Harry Houdini. It’s called Saving Houdini by Michael Redhill.

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