Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Houdini: World's Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King

Krull, Kathleen. 2005. Houdini: World's Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King. Ill. by Eric Velasquez. New York: Walker Publishing Company. ISBN 0802789536

A start to finish production showcasing Harry Houdini as the world's greatest escape artist and magician. Houdini's modest beginnings are portrayed "on stage" with the main highlights of his career chronicled in beautiful illustrations and page-turning text, giving the reader a glimpse into the mind and will of one of the world's most memorable artists.

Critical Analysis:
Kathleen Krull and Eric Velasquez have given children a fabulous book to peruse,discuss, and perhaps research further. Playing off Houdini's theatrical background, Velasquez has illustrated the text with a Master of Ceremonies introducing each segment of Houdini's life from the stage, complete with a red velvet curtain. Krull's text hooks the reader in just like the hawkers of old Vaudeville. One cannot help but to enter the show. Once inside, you are shown the life of Houdini, from his humble beginnings to his eventual stardom. Full color, full page illustrations reinforce the text allowing one to read and check the drawings against the facts written on the page. Many of Houdini's famous escape acts are displayed "on stage" with the audiences' reactions you feel also. We are introduced to Houdini's wife Bess who helped in the acts. We learn that Houdini had a will power very few people will ever be able to surpass, which was the main clue as to how Houdini could perform such amazing feats as he did.
Krull does choose to end the book with a 'behind-the-scenes' page that does give a few, but just a few, of Houdini's secrets behind his acts. However, Houdini warns others against trying to perform one of his stunts by saying, "I have done things which I rightly could not do, because I said to myself, 'you must.'"
Kathleen Krull's writing is exciting and fast-paced. You feel the excitement of the show on each page and are encouraged to continue your study of Houdini with the bibliography list provided at the end of the book.

Book Excerpt:
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"A flashy impresario with an imposing handlebar mustache leans into the title page and tips his hat in greeting: 'Welcome! Enter! Prepare to be dazzled!' The curtain parts for the opening spread, in which 'The Milk Can Escape' of 1908 unfolds in four panels ('Just over two minutes. Behold our Houdini, wet, breathless—but alive!'). Then Krull's narrative voice takes over, leading readers through the biographical particulars of Erik Weiss' rise from son of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, through poverty and self-education in the illusionary arts, to the household name for life-imperiling entertainment. The master of ceremonies breaks in from time to time, introducing Houdini's favorite stunts with showmanlike verve and hype. Between text and concluding notes, Krull presents a well-balanced look at the master's life, touching on his sadly childless marriage, his obsession with researching and improving his craft, and some of the tricks (those that are known, at least) he used to make his escapes. . . . Definitely encourage kids to try this (book) at home."

Display more books on magic for students to research.
Learn a simple card trick to show to students before reading this book as a read aloud.
Invite students who might know a 'magic trick' to show their trick to students after reading the book aloud.

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