SPELLBINDER by Tom Lalicki
Kirkus Star


The Life of Harry Houdini
Age Range: 9 - 12
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Houdini has plenty of biographers, but Lalicki, who as Tom L. Matthews wrote Always Inventing: A Photobiography of Alexander Graham Bell (1999), will leave even veteran students of the great showman, magician, escape artist, and self-promoter astonished anew: “He was stripped naked and examined by a police surgeon who certified that he was hiding nothing. His mouth was taped shut, his wrists and ankles were shackled in ten sets of police handcuffs. For good measure, the ankle cuffs were attached to the handcuffs with an eleventh pair before he was locked into an interrogation room. Five minutes later, Houdini walked out . . .” Were there any limits to his ingenuity? Among many other feats, he also escaped from an oversized paper envelope without tearing it, pulled dozens of threaded needles from his mouth in the oft-performed “East Indian Needles,” developed a show for blind audiences and put on performances despite a broken ankle and a ruptured appendix. Lalicki doesn’t explain Houdini’s tricks, but describes them in riveting detail, emphasizing, as Houdini always did, that the chains, the locks, and the personal danger were never faked. Stocking the tale with a generous array of family portraits, dramatic publicity photos, and attention-grabbing playbills, the author paints a vivid picture of an intense, generous man who did not need to have his exploits exaggerated to make him a folk hero—or, as once billed, “The Most Popular Man in the Entire World.” (index, bibliography, author’s note) (Biography. 9-12)

Pub Date: July 15th, 2000
ISBN: 0-8234-1499-X
Page count: 88pp
Publisher: Holiday House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2000


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