HOUDINI

MASTER OF ILLUSION

Among the outpouring of new releases and reprints on the life of Houdini comes Cox’s (African American Teachers, not reviewed, etc.) biography with only Houdini’s piercing eyes, now a symbol of the man still known as the world’s greatest magician, gracing the cover. Born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, in 1874, Houdini and his family moved to the US in 1876. He grew up in poverty, until he bought a secondhand copy of the memoirs of Robert-Houdin, a famous magician of his time, and the rest, as the saying goes, was history. Cox reveals a man who, obsessed with breaking away from poverty and becoming famous, literally renamed himself and maintained a personal façade as illusive as his magic acts. Houdini’s obsessive personality carried over into his relationships, particularly with his mother, and because he was uneducated, it led him to develop an extensive library of magic books, letters, and other realia. Later in life, it served him to discredit fake mediums, eventually leading up to testimony before Congress. And of course it was his obsessive nature that drove him to dream up new acts, train athletically, and perform death-defying stunts, all to the detriment of his health. What will really keep readers turning the pages are Cox’s descriptions of Houdini’s legendary feats, including the Metamorphosis, Milk Can Escape, and the Vanishing Elephant, and his genius as an escape artist. Cox sparks additional interest through depictions of the political sentiments of the time, such as the rampant discrimination the Jewish Houdini experienced throughout pre-WWI Europe. Gleaning information from Houdini’s journals (perhaps Houdini’s only truthful statements about himself) and primary sources from the time period, Cox presents a well-researched and fascinating account of a man whose life continues to mystify us. (b&w photographs, bibliography, index) (Biography. 11-15)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-590-94960-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2001

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JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY

From the Joey Pigza series , Vol. 1

If Rotten Ralph were a boy instead of a cat, he might be Joey, the hyperactive hero of Gantos's new book, except that Joey is never bad on purpose. In the first-person narration, it quickly becomes clear that he can't help himself; he's so wound up that he not only practically bounces off walls, he literally swallows his house key (which he wears on a string around his neck and which he pull back up, complete with souvenirs of the food he just ate). Gantos's straightforward view of what it's like to be Joey is so honest it hurts. Joey has been abandoned by his alcoholic father and, for a time, by his mother (who also drinks); his grandmother, just as hyperactive as he is, abuses Joey while he's in her care. One mishap after another leads Joey first from his regular classroom to special education classes and then to a special education school. With medication, counseling, and positive reinforcement, Joey calms down. Despite a lighthearted title and jacket painting, the story is simultaneously comic and horrific; Gantos takes readers right inside a human whirlwind where the ride is bumpy and often frightening, especially for Joey. But a river of compassion for the characters runs through the pages, not only for Joey but for his overextended mom and his usually patient, always worried (if only for their safety) teachers. Mature readers will find this harsh tale softened by unusual empathy and leavened by genuinely funny events. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-374-33664-4

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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DANIEL'S STORY

After witnessing the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, Daniel is suddenly transported, at age 14, from his comfortable life in Frankfurt to a Polish ghetto, then to Auschwitz and Buchenwald—losing most of his family along the way, seeing Nazi brutality of both the casual and the calculated kind, and recording atrocities with a smuggled camera (``What has happened to me?...Who am I? Where am I going?''). Matas, explicating an exhibit of photos and other materials at the new United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, creates a convincing composite youth and experience—fictional but carefully based on survivors' accounts. It's a savage story with no attempt to soften the culpability of the German people; Daniel's profound anger is easier to understand than is his father's compassion or his sister's plea to ``chose love. Always choose love.'' Daniel survives to be reunited, after the war, with his wife-to-be, but his dying friend's last word echoes beyond the happy ending: ``Remember...'' An unusual undertaking, effectively carried out. Chronology; glossary. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-590-46920-7

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1993

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