I, Houdini: The Amazing Story of an Escape-Artist Hamster

I, Houdini: The Amazing Story of an Escape-Artist Hamster

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by Lynne Reid Banks, Lynne Reid Banks
     
 

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You may think Houdini is a strange name for a hamster, but if you've ever heard of the late Great Houdini, the most amazing escape-artist of all time, you'll understand how I got my name. I'm proud to say that there hasn't been a cage built that can hold me. I can climb, dive, wriggle, squeeze, or gnaw my way out of any prison they came up with. I have to admit

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Overview

You may think Houdini is a strange name for a hamster, but if you've ever heard of the late Great Houdini, the most amazing escape-artist of all time, you'll understand how I got my name. I'm proud to say that there hasn't been a cage built that can hold me. I can climb, dive, wriggle, squeeze, or gnaw my way out of any prison they came up with. I have to admit that sometimes freedom leads to a bit of trouble—like getting cornered by the cat, ending up in the dog's mouth, or being trapped in the freezing cold of a dark refrigerator. But I won't be stopped! With a whole big world out there to explore, who wants to be held prisoner in a hamster cage?

Author Biography: Lynne Reid Banks was born in London. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she acted and wrote for the repertory stage. Later, she turned to journalism, becoming one of Britain's first female television news reporters. In 1962 she emigrated to Israel, where she married a sculptor, had three sons and taught for eight years in a kibbutz. She now lives with her husband in England. She writes, travels, and visits schools, at home and abroad, full-time. Among Lynne Reid Banks's popular novels for young readers are Angela and Diabola; Harry the Poisonous Centipede; The Fairy Rebel; The Farthest-Away Mountain; The Adventures of King Midas; The Magic Hare; Maura's Angel; and the award-winning Indian in the Cupboard books.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An errant hamster and his quest for freedom are the subject of Banks's fast-paced story. Ages 8-12. (June)
Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
According to PW, "The title tells all: slightly pompous, no slouch when it comes to vocabulary, and with a gift for dry humor, Houdini relates the story of his acquisition by a family and the trial runs and trouble spots that turn him into a great escapologist." Ages 9-12. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
In this reissue of the 1978 title, Houdini is a highly intelligent hamster, so named because of his amazing abilities to escape from any enclosure, to the discomfiture of his well-meaning but obtuse family. His repeated escapes lead him to establish temporary residences inside an upright piano, amid the soot in the chimney, under the floorboards beside a hot-water pipe, in the great—but dangerous—outdoors, and in the filthy home of an abusive alcoholic and his menacing dog, trapped inside their refrigerator. Each escape leads to a recapture, and then to yet another escape, and recapture, and escape. What carries along this series of somewhat repetitive events is Houdini's narrative voice, reminiscent of Toad of Toad Hall, alternatively boasting of his triumphs and bewailing their inevitable unfortunate outcome. First: "Free! Free! Free! I have already mentioned that I am not conceited, but if ever there was a moment for justifiable pride, it was surely now." Then: "was it not an irony of fate that that grand climax of my life should have been all but spoiled by the wretched, humiliating accident that immediately followed?" The chapter in which Houdini mates with a female hamster, while seemingly quite accurate in describing a male hamster's view of sex, may be a bit mature for middle-grade readers, with Houdini's lust for sexual conquest candidly confessed: "You're very beautiful and I'm going to mate with you whether you like it or not."! 2003 (orig. 1978), Dell Yearling, Ages 9 to 12.
—Claudia Mills
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 3-6Anyone who's ever had a hamster for a pet or dreamed of having one will be captivated by this story, narrated by the author Lynne Reid Banks. She has just the right note of superiority in her voice as she reads this first person narrative. Houdini is a precocious hamster who, because of his desire for freedom at all costs, faces some exciting and dangerous adventures. The human characters in the story may think that they own Houdini, but he is too independent a spirit to ever fully belong to anyone. The story is lively and imaginative, and Banks' narration more than does it justice. She makes all of the characters come alive through Houdini's eyes. Careful listeners will also come away with a greater understanding of a hamster's habits and life cycle.-Edith Ching, St. Albans School for Boys, Washington, DC

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807276433
Publisher:
Listening Library, Inc.
Publication date:
09/28/1996
Edition description:
Unabridged, 2 Cassettes
Pages:
51
Product dimensions:
5.62(w) x 7.39(h) x 1.23(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I am Houdini.

No, no, no. Not that one--of course not. He's dead long ago. Besides, he was a human being and I am a hamster. But let me assure you, that as my namesake was no ordinary man, I am no ordinary animal.

Well, that much is fairly obvious, isn't it? I mean, what ordinary hamster even knows he's a hamster? What ordinary hamster can think, reason, observe in a word, educate himself? Show me the hamster, anywhere, with an intellect, a vocabulary like mine! You can't. Nor can you show me one which can live with humans on a footing of absolute equality because he can understand their language, and because, quite frankly, he has more brains in his head than most of them have.

I fear you will think me conceited. I assure you I'm not. It's merely that I have a just and objective appreciation of my own exceptional qualities. It would be as futile to deny that I am exceptional as it would be for an ordinary hamster to boast that he was my equal.

Besides, if I were conceited, I would claim to be perfect. I don't. Certainly not! I have my faults and weaknesses, my moments of frailty. I, too, have made mistakes, succumbed to temptations. But I think I may fairly claim to have built up my character, over the months of my long life, until not many fingers could be pointed at me in accusation. Indisputably I conduct myself with More wisdom, ingenuity, and restraint than many of the humans I see about me-not that that's saying much.

Here, then, is the story of my life so far. From it you may judge if I am not, in truth, as extraordinary in my ways as the Great Houdini was in his.

My birth and infancy are almost lost in themists of memory. I think I may have begun life in a pet shop. It was certainly a large, cold, airy place, exceedingly smelly. Every now and then I catch a whiff which carries me back to those dimly remembered early days-when a friend of my family brings a dog to the house, for instance, and once when I met a mouse, which I shall tell about in its turn.

At all events it was not a bad place, and I remember I had companions of my own kind there, who gave me warmth by day when we all cuddled up together to sleep.

It's strange that, when I think now about living with other hamsters, I shudder with horror at the idea. With one exception I have never seen another hamster since I became mature. And believe me, I never want to. If I ever did see one, I believe I would be overcome with rage, and fly to attack it. Why this should be, I don't know, for I have a very calm temper as a rule, and despise those who lose their self-control (something I see all too often in this house, I regret to say). So, whatever I have to complain of in my life, it is not loneliness. I am never lonely.

My worst trial here was imprisonment. I say "was" because luckily it happens less and less now. The Father is my worst enemy in this respect. He has very fixed ideas about "pets" (as I suppose I must laughingly call myself, taking the human point of view). "Pets are all right in their place," he keeps on saying. (He does tend to repeat things, a sign of a small mind.) His notion of my place is, of course, my cage, and wherever and whenever he catches me, he grabs me up and stuffs me back through that dreaded little entrance tunnel, and claps in the round stopper. He never seems to believe it when the boys tell him I've even found a way round that.

Anyway, it doesn't worry me too much anymore. The Mother, or one of the children, will soon take pity on me if I just go about it the right way, if I can't get out by myself. So I just whip up the tubes into my loft, unearth something tasty from my store, and then curl up and go to sleep. I must say it's quite cosy up there since they put the bits of flannel shirt in, though I much prefer my nest under the kitchen floor. One does tend to prefer a home of one's own choice, arranged and decorated to suit oneself.

Here I go, rambling on about the present when I really meant to tell the story of my life. Ijust wanted to make it crystal clear that I am-well, shall we say, rather unusual? Rambling has always been one of my weaknesses. I just have to follow my nose wherever it takes me-and some fine scrapes it's led me into, I must say!

Well, so I am, as I say, a rather extraordinary and quite exceptional "little furry animal" as some people call anything smaller than a pony which runs around on four legs and can't actually talk. I call them large hairless animals, and I try to use, in my thought, the same degree of superiority that humans do about us. I must admit that nothing infuriates me more than being treated as a pet, picked up, stroked (usually the wrong way), made to climb or jump or run or whatever it is my supposed owners want--and as for eating from their hands and all that sort of degrading nonsense, I've no time for it.

Mind you, my protest against this sort of thing is, nowadays, limited to trying to avoid it by escaping, which is my specialty (hence my name). I wouldn't dream of biting, which I regard as very uncivilized behavior. "Brain, not brawn" is my motto. Besides, they're so vulnerable with their bare skins, it's not really sporting when you've got jaws and teeth like mine. I won't say I've never bitten anyone, but the feeling of shame I had after letting myself go was awful, not to mention the disgusting taste. . . .

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