Thursday, February 5, 2009

A solid Houdini biography and learning tool

There are no shortage of Houdini biographies aimed at young readers. My bookshelf currently holds 50 different titles. But this is not surprising as the life of Harry Houdini is a joy for youngsters to discover, and a great way to get kids to read.

The most recent release is Harry Houdini, part of the “History Makers Bios” series from Lerner Publishing. This 48 page book is aimed at a 4th grade reading level and is a VERY fine biography in all respects.

First off, the book is well illustrated with a mix of photos (most credited to the Library of Congress) and nice original color illustrations by Tad Butler. While there are no new photos here for the hardcore Houdini aficionado, the book does contain a rarely seen pic of Houdini controlling Margery in the Margery Box on page 38, which may be new to some. I also appreciated the photo of New York neck tie cutters in 1889, which gives a feel for the workspace Ehrich Weiss occupied as a teen.

The text is clearly written in simple fact-based sentences that appear to be tailored for reading out loud. The book handles the facts of Houdini’s life responsibly and thoroughly. With the exception of saying the Brothers Houdini charmed snakes as part of their act (and maybe they did -- I’ve just never heard this before), I spotted no inaccuracies or, worse, Houdini mythology stated as fact, which is the scourge of so many Houdini biographies.

In fact, by putting in a sidebar the tale of Houdini’s boyhood encounter with a convict while working for a locksmith, and clearly staying that it is “a story that is told,” this little bio demonstrates greater responsibility than the newest adult Houdini biography (which plays very fast and loose with this tale). While the many apocryphal tales of Houdini are tempting -- especially when we’re talking about tantalizing young readers -- Janet Piehl sticks with the facts. Bravo.

The book also includes a timeline and bibliography of books, websites, and further reading recommendations.

All in all, this is an excellent biography of Houdini and a first rate learning tool for young magic and reading enthusiasts.

This review first appeared on Houdini Lives.

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