Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes & Nick Bertozzi

 Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes & Nick Bertozzi, Disney Hyperion, 9781368022316, 2019 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Graphic novel, biography

What did you like about the book?  This biography focuses on one day: May 1, 1908, when Harry Houdini jumped off the Harvard Bridge into the Charles River. After a few minutes, he bobbed to the surface of the frigid water, having freed himself from manacles and handcuffs. Although the main storyline follows his actions leading up to the jump and its aftermath, flashbacks give insight into Houdini’s grueling physical preparation, his genius at self-promotion, his love for his wife Bess, and the pressures he faced from competitors and even anti-Semitism. Although the colors in the panels are limited to black, white and a silvery blue, I never felt cheated. The artwork here is really breathtaking, moving seamlessly from extreme cinematic close-ups (on the lock as Harry practices) to overhead scenes, as the huge crowd on the bridge waits breathlessly for Harry to surface. A lengthy introduction and extensive panel discussions at the end of the book provide historical background.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No. This is a reprint of an earlier 2007 edition and I thought there might be some new material added but this did not seem to be the case.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Houdini fervently believed in the value of hard work and physical conditioning, rather than magic. This would be a good choice for kids who want to know more about him, but also for athletes looking for role models. All age groups, from upper elementary to adult would enjoy this book.

Who should buy this book? Where would you shelve it?  School and public libraries.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? If you didn’t read it when it first came out, it’s an exemplar for biographical graphic novels.

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: November 17, 2019


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