Cover image for The secret of the great Houdini
The secret of the great Houdini
Burleigh, Robert.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, [2002]

Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 24 x 29 cm
As Sam and Uncle Ezra watch, the Great Houdini escapes from a trunk at the bottom of the river. Includes factual information about Houdini and his career as a magician and escape artist.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 3.6 0.5 61263.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PIC.BK. Juvenile Fiction Picture Books
PIC.BK. Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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I am Houdini.I am one whom nothing can contain.I free myself.Do you believe me now?At last?A master of deception, Harry Houdini spent his life entertaining audiences with his own particular blend of illusion and magic. Whether he was escaping from locked trunks submerged in the water or dangling by his feet from the tops of skyscrapers, Houdini always tested the boundaries of the body, the forces of nature, and the imagination.InThe Secret of the Great Houdini,Houdini must once again escape from a seemingly impossible bind. In the astonished crowd, a little boy finds himself mesmerized by the powers of freedom and human will that Houdini represented in his life. He discovers that Houdini's secret goes far beyond his illusions, to something all people can attain -- if only they believe they can.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 2^-4, younger for reading aloud. Like Pam Munoz Ryan's Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride (1999), Burleigh's latest is a fictional picture book, rooted in biography, that captures the mystique of its famous subject. Here, young Sam and his Uncle Ezra join a crowd watching Houdini perform an escape from a locked trunk submerged in water. As Sam watches in awe, Uncle Ezra fills in some of Houdini's story--his Hungarian birth and his hardscrabble young adult years. Finally, when Sam cannot bear the anxiety, Houdini resurfaces, unshackled, to great cheers. The messages about dismissing doubt and believing in oneself are heavy-handed, and children may be confused by Houdini's disembodied words, which appear intermittently in boldface text. The fiction is more obvious here than in Ryan's title, but children may still wonder if the events actually happened; a concluding author's note offers only general biographical facts. Still, the suspense is palpable, and Gore's subtly tinted, atmospheric artwork reinforces the deep mystery of what really went on underwater. --Gillian Engberg

Publisher's Weekly Review

This child's-eye view of the legendary escape artist finds young Sam and his uncle joining a crowd at the end of a pier, eager to watch Houdini work his magic. Handcuffed, chained and locked into a metal trunk ("The crowd is so still that even from far off the lock's tiny click can be heard as it snaps shut"), Houdini is dropped into the sea as the onlookers gasp. As the seconds tick by one minute, two minutes the tension grows almost unbearable for the audience, especially Sam. "He is down there himself now: Sam, inside the airlessness with horrible thrashing, the cold, inky water seeping through the cracks, and a vise crushing his lungs, squeezing the seconds out." Burleigh's (Flight: The Journey of Charles Lindbergh) prose is frequently resonant ("Darkness and cold are in the bones of the Great Houdini"), but loses steam when it drifts into a somewhat primly delivered message about following one's dreams ("Maybe you shouldn't wonder so much about his secret . What's really important is finding your secret something that becomes like a seed inside you that will grow as you grow up"). Gore's (Behold the Trees) pastel and ink illustrations strike a misty note, with the chilly blues of the water contrasting handsomely with Houdini himself who, bathed in a pale light, appears enigmatic, even otherworldly. An afterword outlines Houdini's life and career; readers will be intrigued to learn that some of his tricks continue to elude explanation. Ages 7-10. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-5-As young Sam, along with a hushed crowd, watches wide-eyed while the Great Houdini is chained, handcuffed, locked in a metal trunk, and lowered into a river, his uncle tells him about the magician's childhood and fantastic escapes-even from a nailed-shut coffin. Burleigh achieves immediacy by writing his poetic text in the present tense, and the story builds in intensity as the boy becomes more and more anxious about Houdini's safety. But Uncle Ezra assures him, "Chains are silk shirts-.A locked box is simply a house to the Great Houdini." Tension also builds as large-type text blares the passage of time: first, "one minute"; then, across a page, "one minute and thirty seconds"; and finally, across a spread picturing the trunk on the river bottom, "Two minutes at the bottom of the river. Two. I repeat: two minutes." The imagined voice of Houdini is interspersed throughout in bold, proclaiming his superior deeds and demanding belief. "Still, I slip through the clutch of iron.-Do you believe me?" Gore's pastel-and-ink illustrations depict a larger-than-life magician who most often spills off the page. There is a wonderful close-up of the anxious child, with the water dark-hued and deliciously foreboding. While the uncle's advice that his nephew look for his own inner secret, like Houdini, is unnecessary, this is an exciting glimpse into an extraordinary life.-Marianne Saccardi, Norwalk Community College, CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.