Overall, a solid-enough introduction to Houdini; good escapist reading that should lead to more.

Ehrich Weiss was born in Budapest and died Harry Houdini in Detroit, having lived a rags-to-riches story that was inescapably magical.

Though Harry’s father had a law degree, was a rabbi and spoke several languages, he never seemed to find success, and Harry left home at 12 to find his way in the world. Like many children of the late 19th century, he had little education but many jobs. He was a newspaper boy, an assistant cutter in a tie factory, a shoe shiner and a messenger boy, but he escaped these dead-end jobs to find a future in magic, where there were better things to escape from: handcuffs, jails, milk cans and a Chinese Water Torture Cell. Though the cover bills this volume as “The Legend of the World’s Greatest Escape Artist,” Weaver’s narrative is straightforward and factual, never quite conveying the excitement and magic of her subject. The unusual mix of original art and archival material—photographs, promotional posters and playbills—is bolstered by effective sidebars that offer historical context for the narrative. A section of references and resources will lead young readers to good books and websites that will help bring Houdini’s magic to life more effectively than the text does by itself.

Overall, a solid-enough introduction to Houdini; good escapist reading that should lead to more.   (source notes, index) (Biography. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4197-0014-9

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011


Though a bit loose around the edges, a charmer nevertheless.

Tales of a fourth grade ne’er-do-well.

It seems that young Jordan is stuck in a never-ending string of bad luck. Sure, no one’s perfect (except maybe goody-two-shoes William Feranek), but Jordan can’t seem to keep his attention focused on the task at hand. Try as he may, things always go a bit sideways, much to his educators’ chagrin. But Jordan promises himself that fourth grade will be different. As the year unfolds, it does prove to be different, but in a way Jordan couldn’t possibly have predicted. This humorous memoir perfectly captures the square-peg-in-a-round-hole feeling many kids feel and effectively heightens that feeling with comic situations and a splendid villain. Jordan’s teacher, Mrs. Fisher, makes an excellent foil, and the book’s 1970s setting allows for her cruelty to go beyond anything most contemporary readers could expect. Unfortunately, the story begins to run out of steam once Mrs. Fisher exits. Recollections spiral, losing their focus and leading to a more “then this happened” and less cause-and-effect structure. The anecdotes are all amusing and Jordan is an endearing protagonist, but the book comes dangerously close to wearing out its welcome with sheer repetitiveness. Thankfully, it ends on a high note, one pleasant and hopeful enough that readers will overlook some of the shabbier qualities. Jordan is White and Jewish while there is some diversity among his classmates; Mrs. Fisher is White.

Though a bit loose around the edges, a charmer nevertheless. (Memoir. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-64723-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020



Finally, an astro-memoir for kids that really gets down to the nitty-gritty.

A former space shuttle pilot and International Space Station commander recalls in unusually exacting detail what it’s like to be an astronaut.

In the same vein as his more expansive adult title How To Astronaut (2020), Virts describes and reflects on his experiences with frank and photographic precision—from riding the infamous “Vomit Comet” to what astronauts wear, eat, and get paid. He also writes vividly about what Earth looks like from near orbit: the different colors of deserts, for instance, and storms that “are so powerful that the flashes from the lightning illuminate the inside of the space station.” With an eye to younger audiences with stars in their eyes, he describes space programs of the past and near future in clear, simple language and embeds pep talks about the importance of getting a good education and ignoring nay-sayers. For readers eager to start their training early, he also tucks in the occasional preparatory “Astronaut Activity,” such as taking some (unused) household item apart…and then putting it back together. Lozano supplements the small color photos of our planet from space and astronauts at work with helpful labeled images, including two types of spacesuits and a space shuttle, as well as cartoon spot art depicting diverse figures.

Finally, an astro-memoir for kids that really gets down to the nitty-gritty. (glossary, index) (Nonfiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: April 11, 2023

ISBN: 9781523514564

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Workman

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2023

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