Fleischman's (The Whipping Boy) colorful, anecdotal biography of Harry Houdini (1874-1926) offers an accessible portrait of this master of magic and escape. The author sets an affectionate and humorous tone, beginning with his subject's most famous feats, and then declaring, "As a devout magician, I am able to reveal only that I may not reveal Houdini's secrets." Fleischman neatly sorts out facts, speculation and legend as he traces the performer's career, from his early stints in vaudeville, with a circus and traveling medicine show and even, along with his wife and on-stage sidekick, Bess, "a part-time career as ghost wranglers and mind-reading fakers." A savvy self-promoter, Houdini made headlines through such successful challenges as breaking out of a Chicago jail cell, yet, Fleischman wryly notes, his "sudden fame was written in vanishing ink." After securing a solid reputation in Europe, the "monarch of manacles" became a stage sensation and financial success in this country as well, with some of his more famous feats, such as escaping from a straitjacket while suspended upside-down from a building. A "teenage conjuror" and former vaudevillian himself, Fleischman brings an insider's sensibility to Houdini's story (after Houdini's death, he came to know Bess, who "became a sort of den mother to us young enthusiasts"). One gets the sense that the author delved into his subject for his own enjoyment, and brings readers along for an entertaining ride. Copious photographs help flesh out Houdini's robust, larger-than-life personality and underscore the range and audacity of his exploits. Ages 9-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Who better than Sid Fleischman, a former professional teenage magician, to write this lively and revealing Houdini biography? The book breathes new life into a well traveled, but endlessly fascinating subject. As a young magician Fleischman knew Bess Houdini personally and was privy to some unique insights into Houdini's life. The book follows the usual chronology beginning with Houdini's humble beginnings in Appleton, Wisconsin. It then follows him through his early struggles and failures, his marriage to Bess (his good luck charm), and his rise to fame as the greatest magician of them all. Fleischman does not minimize the magician's overarching ego and penchant for self-aggrandizement, but emphasizes his remarkable showmanship and incredible determination. Details of Houdini's campaign to debunk the spiritualism of his day are particularly fascinating. Full of Fleischman's wry humor, the book is an exceptionally accessible biography. 2006, Greenwillow/HarperCollins, Ages 10 to 14.
"Many kids today may not recall the governor of their states, but the name Houdini rings a loud seance bell." Fleischman, himself a magician who met Bess Houdini, gives readers an admiring but honest portrayal of the former Ehrich Weiss. No trade secrets are revealed although more than once it is stated that most magicians of his era could duplicate his tricks, and many of today's magicians have surpassed them. It was Houdini's fearlessness and showmanship that set him far above the crowd. His passion was to be not only the best but also always the one with top billing. He could never resist a challenge and did not mind embroidering the facts when it was to his advantage. Houdini is portrayed as a man who possessed great courage, stamina, and energy along with a lifelong devotion to his mother and wife. He was often a mentor but only to magicians who posed no threat to him. Fleischman does an admirable job of depicting Houdini as a mercurial man who never settled, always questing for a new trick and a thrilling headline, throwing himself into sidelines such as flying and acting, and just as quickly abandoning them when he lost interest. The writing is fine, fluid, and engaging. Sadly most of the black-and-white photographs are grainy and unfocused. It is a beneficial book for reports or recreational reading, and the annotated bibliography is a useful plus. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M J S (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, HarperCollins, 160p.; Photos. Biblio., Ages 11 to 18.
Harry Houdini is, perhaps, America's most enigmatic hero, and Sid Fleischman brings his considerable storytelling skills to bear in this attempt to capture his illusive subject. In Escape, Fleischman traces the journey of Ehrich Weiss, who, from the Jewish ghetto of Budapest, became the Great Harry Houdini, from Appleton, Wisconsin. Houdini was as much a social phenomenon as a performer. The details of his life say as much about the American culture in the first two decades of the 20th century as they do about the man (in no small part because, as Fleischman documents again and again, the details of his life are shrouded in mystery and outright deception). That Houdini remains a source of fascination says a great deal about our need to witness the impossible, all the while knowing it isn't real. Escape provides today's adolescents a glimpse at the life of the man hanging suspended in the water-filled torture cell. The book is an essential addition to secondary school libraries, and it would be an excellent text for interdisciplinary or social studies units.
Fleischman, the author of the Newbery Award winner The Whipping Boy and other books for young readers, is a magician himself, and he even knew Houdini's widow, so he's the perfect author for this entertaining biography of the famous escape artist. Illustrated with fascinating b/w period photos, the narrative traces the rise of young Ehrich Weiss, son of a rabbi, from obscurity to worldwide renown under the name Harry Houdini. With great relish, Fleischman relates how this "cocky," egotistical magician and showman extraordinaire took on all kinds of challengesescaping from handcuffs, straitjackets, ropes and trunks, swallowing needles, making an elephant disappear, and even being buried aliveand along the way exposed fake spiritualists. The author does his best to sort out the truth from the legends that surrounded the man, in lively prose that moves along briskly. An exemplary biography for YAs. (An ALA Best Book for YAs and a Boston GlobeHorn Book Honor Book). Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
Gr 4-8-Fleischman looks at Houdini's life through his own eyes, as a fellow magician. Guarding the secrets, yet entertaining readers, he tells the "rags-to-rags" story of a poor Jewish boy named Ehrich Weiss, who longed to be like his idol, French magician Robert-Houdin. Not satisfied to perform the usual magicians' fare, he began perfecting tricks involving illusion, particularly escaping from restraints such as trunks, handcuffs, and straightjackets. While performing in small medicine shows and vaudeville theater, Ehrich, now Harry Houdini, met his wife and stage partner, Bess. Houdini learned stunt flying and how to make elephants disappear but gained the most attention from his public stunts, such as defying Scotland Yard to keep him locked up, or wrapping himself in chains and jumping into a river. Years later, he was about to perform his "Chinese Water Torture" trick when his appendix ruptured and he died in a local hospital. Fleischman's tone is lively and he develops a relationship with readers by revealing just enough truth behind Houdini's "razzle-dazzle" to keep the legend alive. Numerous black-and-white photographs chronicle the magician's life, and Fleischman's postscript shares his own relationship with Madame Houdini, whom he visited at length when he was a young man. Engaging and fascinating.-Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
It seems obvious that Fleischman, Newbery author of numerous novels involving magic, would write a biography about master magician Houdini, but it took decades before he was able to transport his personal connection and admiration into a book. Fleischman separates fiction from fact, discrepancies and contradictions of Houdini's life as skillfully as sawing a woman in half. What sets this biography apart from and above others is the author's personal involvement with his subject; it's a mesmerizing configuration of both lives. When Fleischman found a forgotten box of photos of the magician that Houdini's wife had personally given him, they ignited his curiosity-could he unveil the illusions of the great man? Cunning chapter titles, spacious format and the black-and-white photos that profile the man's unique mystique are tied together like a string of silk scarves spilling from a sleeve that fascinate, intrigue and amaze. What do you get when you put two prestidigitators, one a spellbinding escape artist, the other a magician with words, into a black hat and wave the wand? Abracadabra-a feat that's pure magic. (Biography. 9-14)