Reviews for The Houdini Box

by Brian Selznick

Horn Book
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Fiction: Y Victor repeatedly locks himself up in vain attempts to emulate Houdini. In an unbelievable chain of events, he meets Houdini and inherits his box of secrets. The story, based loosely on fact, works neither as reality or fantasy, and the dark, heavy drawings have a macabre overtone. Horn Rating: Marginal, seriously flawed, but with some redeeming quality. Reviewed by: ss (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Gr 2-5-- Ten-year-old Victor has no success emulating his hero, Harry Houdini; no matter how hard or often he tries, he just can't escape from a locked trunk, or hold his breath underwater for 5000 seconds, or run through walls. Then he meets the magician himself in a crowded train station, and some time later receives a mysterious locked box engraved with the initials ``E. W.'' Victor can't imagine who E. W. is and, disappointed, puts the box away. Years later, after Victor grows up and has a son of his own, he learns that Houdini's real name was Ehrich Weiss; he rushes home, opens the box, and that night, while his wife and child lie asleep, he locks himself in the trunk--and escapes in less than 20 seconds. Crosshatched pencil drawings expertly capture the story's droller moments, as well as Victor's changing expressions; details of dress and furnishings, plus dramatic posters on the endpapers, give this a period look and, appropriately, a slightly sentimental flavor. A capsule biography of Houdini is appended. This brief story has an appeal beyond its reading level. --John Peters, New York Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A fervent admirer of Houdini, ten-year-old Victor tries to emulate his feats, but to no avail: getting out of locked trunks and holding his breath for 5000 seconds are beyond his powers. Spying Houdini himself in a railroad station, he begs for his secrets and is promised a letter. Eventually, it arrives: ``A thousand secrets await you. Come to my house....'' But it's the day of Houdini's death; the grieving widow hands Victor a locked box with the initials E.W. Unable to open the box, and concluding that it couldn't have belonged to the great magician anyway, Victor forgets it until years later when, playing baseball with his son Harry, the ball happens to land on Houdini's grave and he learns his original name: Ehrich Weiss. And that night, Victor at last succeeds in escaping from his grandmother's trunk. Selznick illustrates his first book with vigorous, carefully composed b&w drawings; his faces express emotion with subtlety and quiet humor. The offbeat story is smoothly told; whether children will be pleased by the understated denouement with its ghostly overtones remains to be seen. In any case, it's an interesting debut, handsomely produced. A historical note is appended. (Fiction/Young Reader. 6-10)


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

In his first book for children, Selznick presents the compelling story of Harry Houdini, the magician who amazed the world with his great escapes. While Houdini circles the globe performing one incredible stunt after another, Victor, a young devotee, goes through his own rigorous magician's training at home--locking himself in closets, holding his breath under water, walking into walls. This counterpoint is a witty, effective device, and Selznick's deadpan text makes the most of it. It seems that Victor will never become a magician, until one day, after a chance encounter with his hero, he receives a special box that just might contain the secrets of Houdini's success. In his arresting, informative blend of fact and fiction, Selznick splendidly captures the sense of wonder that surrounded Houdini. Equally impressive are his evocative drawings; by turns droll, touching and downright silly, they bring added vitality to a captivating book. More than anything, however, this ambitious work teaches the importance of faith and the ability to believe in the impossible. Ages 6-11. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


School Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Gr 3-5-Selznick reintroduces The Houdini Box, originally published in 1991 (Knopf). In the story, young Victor, a would-be magician, encounters his hero Harry Houdini and is given a prize box belonging to the famous man. Years later, the boy makes an amazing discovery, enabling him to perform an escape trick on his own. In this new edition, Selznick follows his intriguing tale with bonus material: a biographical note on Houdini, an illustrated magic trick, research notes on the writing of the book, and early sketches for the artwork. Libraries not holding the earlier book will want to consider adding this edition as it is sure to intrigue youngsters, particularly those interested in magic.-Barbara Elleman, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Three reissues highlight different kinds of magic. In Brian Selznick's The Houdini Box, nine-year-old Victor's fascination with the enigmatic magician leads him to lock himself in trunks, hold his breath in the bath and walk through walls, all to no avail. Then one day he meets Houdini at the train station. "In his arresting, informative blend of fact and fiction, Selznick splendidly captures the sense of wonder surrounding Houdini," said PW of the book, originally published in 1991. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Horn Book
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Victor idolizes Harry Houdini and attempts to emulate the magician?s stunts. Unfortunately, his invitation to visit Houdini?s house where ""a thousand secrets await you"" falls on the same day his idol dies, and Victor leaves with only a mysterious box given to him by Houdini?s widow. Illustrated with dark-toned artwork, the elusive tale is more a mood piece than a fully developed story. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Gr. 3-5. "Locks would fall open at his fingertips and he could escape from ropes and chains and cabinets and coffins. Police from around the world couldn't keep him in their jails and the oceans couldn't drown him." In his story about a boy who meets the great Houdini, Selznick captures what's most fascinating about stage magic--the power to escape. At 10, Victor wants to be a magician like Houdini. So Victor keeps locking himself in trunks (and having to be released by his weary mother) and holding his breath under the bathwater and trying to walk through walls. Then his dream seems to come true: he meets Houdini, who promises to write. Will Victor learn the secret of how to escape in under 20 seconds? The strong, rhythmic prose is great for reading aloud, and Selznick's full-page pencil drawings with close cross-hatching show a dreamy, determined Victor. He looks slightly bedraggled from all his failed attempts at disappearing from the conventional scene. A mysterious finger here, a foot there, reinforce the sense of a world of secrets. The story begins like an old-style stage magic show, and all the drawings are framed until the end, when Victor finally learns to escape. Kids will enjoy the magic tricks and the gentle farce, and some will be fascinated by the afterword about Houdini's life--with its unsolved secret. ~--Hazel ~Rochman

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