Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Harry Houdini: The Legend of the World's Greatest Escape Artist

Harry Houdini: The Legend of the World's Greatest Escape Artist

Janice Weaver
Illustrator:  Chris Lane 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 8 to 12
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011   ISBN: 978-1419700149

The man who would one day be called Harry Houdini was born on March 24th, 1874 in Budapest and he was called Ehrich Weiss. When Ehrich was four years old he, his brothers, and his mother traveled to America to join Ehrich’s father, who had secured a job as a rabbi in Appleton, Wisconsin. For a time all went well, and then Rabbi Weiss lost his job and the members of the Weiss family entered a very difficult period of their lives. All seven of the children went to work but even with their wages the family had a hard time making ends meet.

   When he was just twelve years old Ehrich ran off to try to find better work, and a year later joined his father in New York City where they both worked hard to earn enough to bring the rest of the family to the city. Ehrich managed to get a job as an assistant cutter at a tie factory, which  is where he met Jacob Hyman. The young men found out that they shared “a love of magic.” Inspired by a book written by a magician called Jean Eugene Robert-Houdini, Ehrich decided that he would become a magician. He and his friend Jacob formed a magic act. Calling themselves the Modern Monarchs of Mystery the two friends performed wherever they could. It was at this time that Ehrich changed his name, calling himself Harry Houdini.

   In 1894 Jacob, fed up with their hard life, quit the partnership. He was soon replaced by Dash, Harry’s brother. Together they developed a trick called Metamorphosis, the trick that set Harry on the path to becoming one of the greatest magicians of all time.

   In this superb picture book biography the author tells the story of a man whose life story and achievements have fascinated people for decades. Even people who are not particularly drawn to the life of magicians and escape artists know about and are intrigued by Harry Houdini. The author not only tells the colorful story of Harry’s life, but she also provides her readers with background information on topics that she mentions in the book. These topics include child labor, dime museums, and spirit mediums.

   Through the book the engaging text is beautifully complimented by annotated period photographs, show posters, photos of memorabilia, and illustrations.