Reviews for Escape! : The Story of the Great Houdini


Booklist Reviews 2006 August #1
/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 6-9. Could there be anyone more qualified than Newbery Medalist Fleischman to profile the "monarch of manacles" for young audiences? After all, as described in his autobiography, The Abracadabra Kid (1998),^B Fleischman first earned his bread as a magician. This same background imposes an unexpected limitation: although the bibliography suggests publications to aid aspiring illusionists, Fleischman states upfront that an unspoken covenant among magicians prevents him from revealing Houdini's secrets. It's a tribute to Fleischman's zinging prose that, even without spoilers, his account remains terrifically engaging, delivered in a taut sideshow patter packed with delicious vocabulary (prestidigitator, bunkum) that may prompt even the most verbally indifferent to a new enthusiasm for their dictionaries. The showy language comes with real substance, too, as Fleischman explores his subject's tireless self-reinvention (born Ehrich Weiss in a Budapest ghetto, the ambitious lad's stage name was just one of many image-buffing ruses); his virulent egomania; and his forays into early aviation and cinema. The show-biz details are as fascinating as the transformation of an immigrant whose "biggest sleight-of-hand was himself," and, thanks to the widely spaced type and compelling visuals, this will draw even those readers without a biography assignment hovering overhead. That's some trick, indeed. ((Reviewed August 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2007 Spring
Adopting a tone somewhere between vaudeville announcer and carnival barker, Fleischman lures readers to the greatest show of all: reading. A magician himself, Fleischman does not disappear from the narrative but offers personal comments and conjures up verbal wordplay. He displays the drama of Houdini's escapades and adventures with sure and energetic pacing. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2006 #4
Adopting a tone somewhere between vaudeville announcer and carnival barker, Fleischman lures readers to the greatest show of all: reading. Death-defying escapes, sŽance secrets, never-before-seen photographs-it's all here, in print! A magician himself, Fleischman does not disappear from the narrative but uses his authority to offer personal comments and conjure up verbal wordplay, allowing both to pop up like so many rabbits out of a hat. ("To a magician, effect makes the world go round. Effect is muscle. How he flexes it is nobody's business.") Despite an extensive annotated list of source material, direct quotes show little attribution, and readers are alerted to some sleight of hand in dialogue, a "bit of ventriloquism across the decades"; however, there's no confusion about what is fact and what is fiction in the magician's murky past. Best of all, though, Fleischman knows good showbiz when he sees it. He covers the drama of Houdini's escapades and adventures without dwelling on the man's psychological complications. The pacing is as sure and energetic as that of a practiced performer. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2006 June #2
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)<\i> Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 July #2

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.)

[Page 83]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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School Library Journal Review 2006 August
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.

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VOYA Reviews 2006 June
"Many kids today may not recall the governor of their states, but the name Houdini rings a loud séance 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.-Pam Carlson Photos. Biblio. 3Q 2P M J S Copyright 2006 Voya Reviews.

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