Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Houdini: World’s Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King

Houdini: World’s Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King

Kathleen Krull
Illustrator:  Eric Velasquez 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 10
Walker, 2005   ISBN: 978-0802789532

Who was Houdini? There is no doubt that he was one of the greatest escape artists of all time but there were many sides to this complicated and illusive man and it is hard to be sure which parts of his life story are facts and which are fiction. We know that he was born in Hungary and his name was Erik Weiss, and we also know that after his family moved to America theirs was a life full of poverty and hardship. So hard was it in fact that Erik ran away for a while to ease the situation at home. We know that Erik longed for fame and attention and he wasn’t always quite truthful about himself and his achievements to get the attention that he craved.

As he grew into adulthood however, Erik – who changed his name to Harry Houdini – began to really earn a reputation for being a superb illusionist and later he expanded his repertoire to include extraordinary feats which required him to get out of incredibly difficult and often dangerous situations. Houdini escaped from a water filled milk can, from being chained and manacled within an inch of his life, and much more. He thrived on the danger and on the attention he received when he performed his tricks successfully.

The author of this fascinating picture book biography not only includes an account of Houdini’s life but she has also inserted descriptions of some of his most notorious tricks. These accounts written in the first person in a non-rhyming poetry form are powerful and give the reader a real sense of how dangerous and exciting the performances must have been. Kathleen Krull concludes with a section describing Houdini’s techniques and some of the ways in which he was able to achieve his extraordinary escapes. We are left in no doubt that Houdini was truly one of a kind.