Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Great Houdini: World Famous Magician and Escape Artist

The Great Houdini: World Famous Magician and Escape Artist

Monica Kulling
Illustrator:  Anne Reas 
For ages 6 to 8
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2003   ISBN: 0679885730

Some children decide when they are very young that they want to be a fireman or a pilot when they grow up. Ehrich Weiss loved to perform the kinds of acts one sees when one visits a circus, and he wanted to be some kind of performer when he was an adult. When he was only nine he gave his first performance using a homemade trapeze that was hung from a tree. The neighborhood children came by to watch Ehrich do all kinds of tricks, including one where Ehrich picked up needles with his eyelids while he was hanging upside down!

   The Weiss family was poor so Ehrich soon had to get a job to help pay the bills. He sold newspapers, worked as an errand boy, shone shoes, and worked in a locksmith’s shop. Though he worked hard and did his part to help support his family, Ehrich never lost his fondness for performing. He was fascinated by magic and taught himself many tricks, and he even went so far as to change his name from Ehrich Weiss to Harry Houdini, in honor of Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin who was a famous French magician.

   When they were still teenagers, Harry and his brother Theo put together a magic act. They called themselves the Brothers Houdini and traveled around the country putting on shows. When they were in New York City performing at a fair on Coney Island Harry met a performer called Bess Rahner. The young people fell in love and got married and the Brothers Houdini disbanded.

   For many years Harry and Bess struggled to make a living, and then Harry began to do more tricks where he had to escape from seemingly impossible situations. He escaped from handcuffs, straightjackets and cabinets with ease and when he managed to escape from a cell in Scotland Yard’s headquarters in London, people began to pay attention. Harry had finally found his niche and it would make him a star.

   This excellent nonfiction Step Into Reading title will delight young readers who are interested in magicians and escape artists. The narrative is engaging and full of interesting anecdotes from Harry Houdini’s life.