Houdini: The Handcuff King

houdini.jpgHarry Houdini was obsessed with being the greatest daredevil of his time. What kid can resist a man whose trademark stunt was to free himself from a straitjacket while hanging upside down midway down a skyscraper? Nick Bertozzi and Jason Lutes, under the umbrella of the Center for Cartoon Studies, have created a visual stunt of death-defying cartooning in Houdini: The Handcuff King (Hyperion, $16.99). The story is based on one day in 1908 when Houdini dove from the Cambridge Bridge with his arms pinned behind him in handcuffs into the icy waters below. In Houdini, we follow his movements from 5 o’clock in the morning until that evening as he relaxes after another successful escape. We learn that while he was mostly just an amazing lock technician and a physically fit and fearless person, he also played a few tricks on his audiences. Readers will cringe as one of them seems to go awry threatening the great magician’s life. I love the visual presentation, the long vertical columns of Harry’s plunge, the tight focus on critical acts. I was about to say this is not a book for low skill level readers, but re-reading it with them in mind, the pictures do an excellent  job of visually cueing the story. So I will revise that to say that there is a lot of text and if that will frustrate your low skill level reader, this might be one to skip. However, it also might be one that will help them step up. Overall, this is right up the alley of my two teen boys. Just leave it on the coffee table and see what literacy happens.

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