________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 11. . . .November 13, 2009


Harry Houdini. (Kids Can Read).

Elizabeth MacLeod. Illustrated by John Mantha.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2009.
32 pp., pbk. & hc., $5.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55453-299-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55453-298-8 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Houdini, Harry, 1874-1926-Juvenile literature.
Magicians-United States-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Escape artists-United States-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 2-3 / Ages 7-8.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

** /4



A man who hired acts for big theatres saw one of their shows. He loved Harry and Bess's escape trick.

"Forget about the small magic tricks," the man told the Houdinis. "Just perform escapes."

Harry and Bess decided to try it.


Harry Houdini is arguably the most famous magician and greatest escape artist the world has ever known. Despite dying over 80 years ago, his name is still well known. Indeed, there remains an ongoing fascination with the Houdini name, as reflected in recent children's biographies such as Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini (Sid Fleischman, 2006), A Picture Book of Harry Houdini (David Adler & Michael Adler, 2009), and Harry Houdini: A Photographic Story of a Life (Vicki Cobb, 2005). Particularly amongst young children, however, little more is known about Harry Houdini than his famous name. Elizabeth MacLeod's Harry Houdini biography offers a simple introduction for young readers interested in finding out about the man behind the famous name.

     As with all Kids Can Press books, Harry Houdini is sturdy and durable—made to last. Labelled a "Kids Can Read" level 3 book, the text is designed for children moving into reading independently. As such, the book is generally simple, but, despite the simplicity of the text, MacLeod does a reasonable job of generating a nonetheless interesting biography. I rather suspect, however, that young readers would prefer more attention was given to Houdini's daring escapes. MacLeod invests a sizeable portion of her scant text in providing background information about Houdini before he was famous.

      John Mantha's accompanying artwork lacks vibrancy and liveliness. While the illustrations adequately reflect the text content, they do little to extend the text in any meaningful way.

      There are better Houdini biographies for children, but the ones of which I am aware are for older children than those targeted by Elizabeth MacLeod. As such, this biography fills a niche—it is one means of providing a first introduction to Houdini for young children.

Recommended with reservations.

Gregory Bryan has long been interested in the life and exploits of Harry Houdini. Bryan teaches children's literature at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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