Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Picture Book (Biography): Harry Houdini (by Janice Weaver)

Summary of Harry Houdini (by Janice Weaver):
Beginning with his childhood of poverty and uncertainty, the character and drive of Harry Houdini was being formed.  As young as 8-years old, he was working to help feed and support his family.  Working in job selling newspapers, running errands, and shining shoes, he learned the importance of hard work and customer satisfaction.  His family immigrated to America when he was 12 years old.   Surviving winter in New York was difficult though.  That first year, Harry charmed the New Yorkers with his wit during the holiday season to earn enough money to help his family catch up on their bills.  Eventually, he broke away from manual labor to begin performing.  His early magic shows were acted out with a friend, then his brother Dash, and finally, his wife.  His first big illusion was the Metamorphosis trick.   Working in circuses and other venues, often performing multiple times a day for very little pay, it helped him develop skills that later became his defining attributes.   

Eventually, Houdini and his wife were invited to join a prestigious company where his acts were appreciated, and he was paid well.  He invited people to bring locks and handcuffs to the performances.  If he failed to escape from them, the audience member would receive $100.  This ploy gave them a personal stake in his performance and raised his esteem to further heights.  From there, he toured Europe where he became the master of the audience.  He came into each town and challenged the police to lock him up with their best tools.  Within minutes, Houdini walked out of each station and law enforcement organization—including the famed Scotland Yard.  The Europeans loved him.  Houdini was never satisfied with his act though.  He continuously pushed himself to defy the odds and overcome his fears.  Later in life, he successfully exposed the fraud of spiritualists who gave people false hope by convincing them they could talk to their dead loved ones.  During his thriving career, he took care of his family.  He was especially close to his mother.   When he died, he was one of the most successful and wealthiest entertainers.  More importantly, he left a legacy of love, loyalty, and inspiration to those who knew him. 

I set out to just look over this book because I found it in the New Non-Fiction section of the library.  After a couple paragraphs, I was hooked.  I did not put it down until I was finished reading.  Author Janice Weaver has written a brilliant narrative that balances Houdini’s humanity with his extraordinary skills.  The book has many wonderful photographs and artifacts.  Artist Chris Lane has created some additional energetic and vivid illustrations to accompany the text.  Another feature is the sidebars on several pages that give additional historical or biographical information on topics like child labor, immigration, magic tricks, his family, and early aviation.  This biography is definitely worth reading for anyone who likes history, magic tricks/illusions, or stories of perseverance and love.  I highly recommend Harry Houdini: The Legend of the World’s Greatest Escape Artistfor ages 8 and up.  


  1. My son adores non-fiction, and although he is a more upper MG/YA reader, this sounds like something he would like. Thanks for word on it.

  2. Ooops! I didn't see the picture book part in the title until now. Probably not quite my son's material, but a well done, entertaining non-fiction picture book is an amazing thing.


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