Houdini and Me – Dan Gutman. Holiday House, 2021. 9780823445158
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
Genre: supernatural/ghost story
What did you like about the book? 11-year-old Harry Mancini is an expert on the famous escape artist Harry Houdini. Not only does he have a similar-sounding name, Harry and his mother actually live in the same house in New York that Houdini lived in for many years. He has read a lot of books about Houdini, studied his tricks via video footage, and is considering a career in magic. When Harry winds up in a week-long coma (after he and his friend Zeke were playing near some railroad tracks), he receives a lot of gifts – flowers, candy, and, mysteriously, an old cell phone that doesn’t seem to work. He brings it home when discharged from the hospital, and that evening starts to receive text messages on it from someone claiming to be Houdini. He is skeptical at first, of course, but his correspondent answers a lot of questions to Harry’s satisfaction that convince him that he is in fact receiving messages from beyond the grave.
Their conversations go on for several days, with Houdini sharing the secrets of some of his most famous tricks, and giving Harry advice about facing his fears and taking some risks. Things take a dark turn when Houdini tells Harry he wants to attempt the greatest escape of all – from death – by inhabiting Harry’s 11-year-old, 21st century body, and sending the boy back in time to the 1920s, permanently. Harry will need all of his courage, and a little help from his pal Zeke, to escape Houdini’s last trick.
Packed with facts about Houdini’s life and career, this is a fast-paced, funny, and occasionally frightening story. The first-person narration hits just the right notes, as Harry enthusiastically shares his vast knowledge about his hero and provides details of his own everyday life. There are several historical photographs throughout the book, and a useful author’s note from Dan Gutman at the end which helps sort out the facts from the fiction.
Anything you did not like about the book? The title! I assumed this was going to be branching out from Gutman’s classic Baseball Card Adventures series, with Joe Stoshack traveling back in time and meeting Houdini as he did in Jackie & Me and all the others. It is a good fit for fans of those books, but it is not part of the series.
To whom would you recommend this book? Houdini is a popular subject for the target audience (grades 3-6), and Gutman a very popular author, so this will likely be a big hit. Kids who like mild ghost stories will enjoy it as well.
Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Fiction
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? no
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.
Date of review: 6/27/2021
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