Harry has always admired the famous escape artist Houdini. And when Houdini asks for help in coming back to life, it seems like an amazing chance...or could it be Houdini's greatest trick of all?
Eleven-year-old Harry Mancini is NOT Harry Houdini--the famous escape artist who died in 1926. But Harry DOES live in Houdini's old New York City home, and he definitely knows everything there is to know about Houdini's life. What is he supposed to do, then, when someone starts texting him claiming that they're Houdini, communicating from beyond the grave? Respond, of course.
It's hard for Harry to believe that Houdini is really contacting him, but this Houdini texts the secrets to all of the escape tricks the dead Houdini used to do. What's more, Houdini's offering Harry a chance to go back in time and experience it for himself. Should Harry ignore what must be a hoax? Or should he give it a try and take Houdini up on this death-defying offer?
Dan Gutman is the award-winning author of series including My Weird School, The Genius Files, and the baseball card series, including Honus & Me. He uses his writing powers for good once again in this exciting new middle grade novel.---from the publisher
224 pages 978-0823445158 Ages 8-12
Keywords: historical fiction, magician, escape artist, time travel, fantasy and magic, action/adventure, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old
Harry Mancini lives in New York City, in the very house where the famous Harry Houdini once lived. He's always been a fan. He and his friend Zeke are hanging out at Riverside Park, playing near the railroad tracks, when Harry's shoelace gets stuck. He can't get his shoe off, but as a train bears down on him, he falls backwards and survives, although he has a concussion and is in the hospital.
He's okay, and has many gifts and flowers. In one box is an old fashioned cell phone. Harry's a little excited, since his mother doesn't believe in children having smart phones, but he's very surprised when the phone buzzes... and Harry Houdini is on the other end. After some conversations with his idol, Harry is given an offer by Houdini-- switch bodies for an hour and travel back to take Houdini's place while Houdini experiences 21st century New York.
Harry agrees, but finds himself in a bit of a pickle in Houdini's time. Houdini, in the modern day, doesn't have much luck booking his act at Madison Square Garden, and his reasons for switching with Harry end up being a bit darker than were expected. Will young Harry be able to remain in his own time, or will Houdini use him as a way to obtain immortality?
Strengths: I absolutely adore the inclusion of photographs of real places in New York! Like The Baseball Card Adventures, we have a modern kid sent back into time, but this is slightly different because Harry doesn't spend a whole lot of time there. Young Harry's near miss with death, the fact he lives in Houdini's house, and the communicating with Houdini by cell phone are all really interesting. I liked that Gutman included Houdini's interest in speaking from the beyond the grave. Quite a fun book, and I enjoyed having one central character, although The Flashback Four books work well with an ensemble cast.
Weaknesses: Should the texts from Houdini have been in all capital letters? It seemed a bit like screaming to me, but from a children's standpoint I guess it makes sense.
What I really think: This reminded me a bit of Qwerty Stevens, but it's a formula that works. Students are still fascinated with Houdini, so this is a must purchase for elementary and middle school libraries. The fact that it is a stand alone also makes it great for gift giving to fans of this author, Houdini, or historical fiction.
Recommended by: Karen Yingling, Librarian, Ohio USA
See more of her recommendations: msyinglingreads.blogspot.com