Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Houdini and Me – he’s back for one last trick!

Houdini and Me, by Dan Gutman, (March 2021, Holiday House), $16.99, ISBN: 9780823445158

Ages 8-12

Eleven-year-old Harry Mancini lives at Harry Houdini’s old address, so he’s learned quite a bit about the magician. But when someone leaves him a mysterious old flip phone, and someone calling himself Houdini starts texting himself on it, Harry thinks someone has to be playing a prank on him, but the texter knows way too much about Houdini, and Harry’s current apartment… is he really Houdini, and how did he find a way to text from beyond the grave? As the two exchange text conversations, Houdini lays out his plan: he wants to come back and experience life again, and in return, he’ll make Harry famous. But there are always strings attached, aren’t there?

Dan Gutman is already a celebrity in my home and my library for books like his My Weird School and The Genius Files series, and Homework Machine. He has a way of writing that kids relate to so well; it’s like having another kid level with them, and they love it. Houdini and Me has that same first-person narration and conversational voice that kids love, rapid-fire dialogue between characters, and a solid history lesson Harry Houdini, magic, and the early 20th century, that kids will enjoy, too. It’s an interesting take on Harry Houdini – this would make a good reading group book.

Check out Dan Gutman’s author website, loaded with resources, including his My Weird Read-Aloud, excerpts, and information about virtual school visits. Houdini and Me is on the Indie Next List.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade

Introduce middle graders to a young Harry Houdini with Magician’s Fire

magiciansfireThe Magician’s Fire, by Simon Nicholson, (October 2014, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky). $15.99, ISBN: 9781492603320

Recommended for ages 8-12

Young Harry Houdini was a shoeshine kid on the streets of New York long before he captivated audiences with his illusions – but he was always interested in magic. The Magician’s Fire introduces readers to Harry and his friends – fellow street urchin Billie, and Arthur, a wealthy boy from an unhappy home.

We also meet Herbie, a magician who serves as Harry’s mentor – he’s a tired older man who performs in a local theatre. One night, Herbie disappears, the only evidence being a puff of purple smoke. Harry and his friends turn investigators, using their skills and their wits to get to the bottom of Herbie’s disappearance. But are they also attracting some unwanted attention?

I love the idea of introducing kids to Harry Houdini. It worries me that icons of previous generations may fade away to the general public, so seeing Harry brought back to life in a mystery-type series – think Alfred Hitchcock’s investigators, but with magic! – that also gives him a chance to show off his developing illusionist skills, really makes me happy.

Harry is obnoxious in this first book. He wants the attention, he wants to do everything by himself, and his idea of teamwork really relates to how his friends can get him noticed or pave his way to save the day. He realizes this, thankfully, when Billie and Arthur call him on it, and while I think this will be a struggle we see in future plotlines, it presents a great growth opportunity for the characters and gives middle graders an entry point to the character. Readers will recognize themselves in Harry, sympathize with Arthur, and cheer for Billie. There’s some good character development at work here, and interesting insights into the world of illusion that will appeal to everyone.

The book leaves off with an obvious cliffhanger, so I hope this new series has a long, successful life. I read the first chapter to a storytime group of middle graders, and they were captivated by the opening scene. One boy asked me to make sure I included that book in my next library order – duly noted!

The Sourcebooks website offers a free, downloadable Educator’s Guide to The Magicians’ Fire, along with an excerpt.