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Ten year old Victor loves Houdini. In fact, Victor wants to be a magician when he grows up, just like Houdini. For good measure, he is starting to practice now: he locks himself in his grandmother’s trunk, walks into walls, and tries to hold his breath while taking a bath. None of this goes over well with his mother. But Victor’s life is changed when a visit to the country brings him face to face with his idol – the very Houdini, himself.
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While you can’t always judge a book by its cover, I’d say this one is a safe bet. The overly, colored, bright blue eyes of Houdini stare out disconcertingly. It’s creepy. And so is the book. The story is, for the most part, nicely done, and who can argue with the black and white sketch drawings of Selznick? So why the “creepy” rating? At one point in the story, the grown up Victor finds himself chasing a baseball (hit by his son) into a graveyard. But a strange twist of fate, the ball is found on – wait for it – Houdini’s grave. The headstone provides a clue for Victor to unlock his secret box. The scenario is just too weird for me. That is, until I read the several “appendices” to the story: “An Interesting Note,” “A Brief Biography of Houdini,” and “The Sign.” Now it all makes sense.
Apparently Houdini’s wife held seances for 10 years after his death in hopes they might keep their promise to each of contacting each other from beyond the grave. This is explained in too much detail for my comfort, let alone for a young child. As well, Selznick mentions in “The Sign” that by some twist of fate he stepped on a “Care” sign (a perpetual care marker for the groundskeeper) and believes it to be a sign from Houdini. “I loved how simple and direct it was. It was like a command…as if Houdini, in his wisdom, had taken something as simple as this small word and filled it with importance and mystery. And what an important lesson it seemed to teach…” At which point Selznick carries on, in great specificities, about the very vague command, “care.”
It’s too much and crosses the line in attempting to peak the curiosity about things better left alone.
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- Author: Brian Selznick
- Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (October 7, 2008)
- Hardcover: 80 pages
- Reading Age: Ages 7 and up
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What You Need to Know
- Role Models/Authority Figures – Victor is a diligent boy who works hard for something he wants. Houdini is his idol.
- Violence – Victor repeatedly gets himself locked up in his grandmother’s trunk. As the parent, I kept hearing all those warnings about locks and trunks and freezer doors echo through my memory. I can’t say the kids would think of that – my kids didn’t want to touch the book, so I couldn’t ask.
- Sexual Content – None.
- Language – None.
- Consumerism – Certainly peaks the interest in Houdini. Selznick provides references for further reading in the back of the book.
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs – None.
- Religion – It seems Houdini left Victor a sign on the headstone. From “A Brief Biography of Houdini” Selznick penned and placed in the back of the book: Houdini and his wife make a pact to contact each other from beyond the grave. During his life, Houdini attempted to contact people from beyond the grave (blew the cover on a lot of “spiritualists”). His wife had seances for 10 years after his death in an attempt to contact him. Selznick believes Houdini left him a sign.
- Other – The book also includes Selznick’s “Creating The Houdini Box,” “Researching the Houdini Box, “Early Sketches,” and “Magic Tricks”. The latter is harmless, and includes a diagram on how to pretend your thumb was cut off.
- Awards – The Texas Bluebonnet Award (1993), The Rhode Island Children’s Book Award (1993)