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Escape!: The Story of The Great Houdini Paperback – April 22, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 4-8–Fleischman looks at Houdini's life through his own eyes, as a fellow magician. Guarding the secrets, yet entertaining readers, he tells the rags-to-rags story of a poor Jewish boy named Ehrich Weiss, who longed to be like his idol, French magician Robert-Houdin. Not satisfied to perform the usual magicians' fare, he began perfecting tricks involving illusion, particularly escaping from restraints such as trunks, handcuffs, and straightjackets. While performing in small medicine shows and vaudeville theater, Ehrich, now Harry Houdini, met his wife and stage partner, Bess. Houdini learned stunt flying and how to make elephants disappear but gained the most attention from his public stunts, such as defying Scotland Yard to keep him locked up, or wrapping himself in chains and jumping into a river. Years later, he was about to perform his Chinese Water Torture trick when his appendix ruptured and he died in a local hospital. Fleischman's tone is lively and he develops a relationship with readers by revealing just enough truth behind Houdini's razzle-dazzle to keep the legend alive. Numerous black-and-white photographs chronicle the magician's life, and Fleischman's postscript shares his own relationship with Madame Houdini, whom he visited at length when he was a young man. Engaging and fascinating.–Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Gr. 6-9. Could there be anyone more qualified than Newbery Medalist Fleischman to profile the "monarch of manacles" for young audiences? After all, as described in his autobiography, The Abracadabra Kid (1998),^B Fleischman first earned his bread as a magician. This same background imposes an unexpected limitation: although the bibliography suggests publications to aid aspiring illusionists, Fleischman states upfront that an unspoken covenant among magicians prevents him from revealing Houdini's secrets. It's a tribute to Fleischman's zinging prose that, even without spoilers, his account remains terrifically engaging, delivered in a taut sideshow patter packed with delicious vocabulary (prestidigitator, bunkum) that may prompt even the most verbally indifferent to a new enthusiasm for their dictionaries. The showy language comes with real substance, too, as Fleischman explores his subject's tireless self-reinvention (born Ehrich Weiss in a Budapest ghetto, the ambitious lad's stage name was just one of many image-buffing ruses); his virulent egomania; and his forays into early aviation and cinema. The show-biz details are as fascinating as the transformation of an immigrant whose "biggest sleight-of-hand was himself," and, thanks to the widely spaced type and compelling visuals, this will draw even those readers without a biography assignment hovering overhead. That's some trick, indeed. Jennifer Mattson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 940 (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Greenwillow Books; Reprint edition (April 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060850965
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060850968
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Since his autobiography, The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life, was published in 1996, Sid Fleischman has been stealing the spotlight with his exuberant brand of nonfiction. Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World is Fleischman's fourth true tale, following the widely acclaimed The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West and the best-selling Escape! The Story of The Great Houdini.
Fleischman's books have been made into films, performed as plays, and translated into nineteen languages. The author was awarded the Newbery Medal for The Whipping Boy.
Sid Fleischman lives in Santa Monica, California.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Oh me, oh my, another Houdini biography? A person could be forgiven for giving a groan at hearing that yet another such beast was being churned out of the publishing houses. Even the library with the poorest stock of literary biographies for children will find that it has at least one moth-eaten old bio of that greatest of self-promoters. So it was with great trepidation that I examined Sid Fleischman's newest contribution to the world of non-fiction. Admittedly, the man had his credentials in order. Not only can he boast to have met and conversed often with Houdini's wife, Bess, but he has actually been a magician himself. How many other biographers of the mysterious man can say as much? And then reading through "Escape!" I found the book to be an entirely enjoyable lark. Relying a great deal on Fleischman's trademark easy-going voice and writing style, the book sets out to debunk as many Houdini myths as it possibly can while simultaneously reestablishing its subject to be the amazing genius he truly was. Fleischman doesn't flinch from the less enjoyable aspects of Houdini's life, but neither does he degrade the man who could arguably have been called America's greatest entertainer.

Born Erich Weiss in Hungary in 1874, Houdini's family moved from Budapest to the United States when he was four. Times were tough, even in Appleton, Wisconsin where the family took up residence. At 12, Erich ran away from home, later rejoining the family in New York City. He came into the world of magic slowly, but when he concentrated on the subject he applied himself fully. Fleischman's book shows how Houdini was both a great magician and a great self-promoter.
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Format: Hardcover
Escape! The Story of The Great Houdini, a magician's tale conjured from a magician's top hat, is a showman's spirited triumph. Sid Fleischman, himself a magician as documented in The Abracadabra Kid, fills each page with enchanting insights not possible by writers outside the magic circle. Beyond that, the reader of both Fleischman books will soon discover many similarities between the author and his subject. Both Jews, both taken up by the magician's wand at an early age, both showmen, both devoted to lifelong sweethearts, and both eager to extend a hand to those just coming up the pike. No wonder Fleischmen had to write this book.

In addition to facts and figures found in traditional tellings, Fleischman reveals absurdities of the magic trade in the same way that the Great Houdini did at the turn of the last century. Though an illusionist to the very end, Houdini grew to loathe spiritualists who preyed on the grieving relatives of young men lost in WWI and went to considerable lengths to expose them. Fleischman continues the debunking. Through the vagabond subject's experiences, the author deftly slips the history of the era--WWI, the advent of movies, the demise of vaudeville--into every chapter. Comparing the value of dollars then and now Fleischman gives the reader a strong sense of both history and economics. Inflation is no illusion.

Literary allusions and theatrical terms abound in context, without confusing the unfamiliar reader. Fleischman's trademark promotion of reading slides in unexpectedly as he shows time and again how much this grammar school dropout relied on his books to improve upon his language, his image, his birthdate, and his country of origin and to sharpen his trade skills and to build his 5,000-book collection.
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Format: Hardcover
Oversized, full of pictures, and illustrated with a flourish, Escape! is a realistic and at the same time very personal look into the life of Harry Houdini by Sid Fleischman, who spent his youth persuing stage magic and emulating the King of Handcuffs. Fleischman even knew Bess Houdini, the magician's widow, when they both lived in California. Fleischman writes like he talks; if you've met the man and heard his speech patterns, the book is easier to follow, but at times I thought his idiosyncratic style could have used a bit of editing. He certainly enjoys his subject though, and his enthusiasm is infectious. A great introduction to a charismatic and enigmatic Harry Houdini.
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Format: Hardcover
Ages 9 and older will find ESCAPE a vivid story of master escape artist and magician Houdini, a man who could walk through brick walls and escape the most impossible circumstances. This biography comes from an author who was a former professional magician himself, and offers stories of how the son of an impoverished rabbi changed himself into the world-known Houdini. An excellent, lively text makes for a biography perfect for reports.
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By Paul on September 3, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book for one of my students that I tutor, and prior to giving it to her, read the book myself and I can see why her 7th grade teacher assigned it. Well written with a few images to illustrate Harry Houdini's life, and even learned a few things that I didn't know even after visiting Appleton, WI back in 2006. Its one of the few books that she has been assigned that I would recommend for adults.
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