Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Greatest Escape! Houdini and Me by Dan Gutman


(You don't have to believe me. If it wasn't me, I wouldn't believe me either.)

Not only does eleven-year-old Harry Mancini live in the Great Houdini's house on West 113th Street in New York City, but he's a real admirer of the great illusionist and escape artist. His best friend Zeke thinks he's a bit weird. Kids who talk about a magician who died in the 1920s who don't have smart phone, or even a flip phone, are just weird. But when Zeke discovers Harry has never even heard of flattening coins under trains, he figures that's one thing he can introduce ti his friend.

Zeke takes Harry down to the Freedom Tunnel where trains pass and shows him how to put his ear on the track to hear the vibrations of the approaching train. Quickly they put their coins on the track, but as they see the train's headlight in the distance, Harry discovers one shoelace is caught in the tracks. Zeke tries to help, but finally tells Harry to roll off the track and let the train cut the shoelace as it rolls by. The last thing Harry remembers is the roar of the train and hitting his head on something.

Harry wakes after several days of unconsciousness, feeling a bit dazed, in the hospital, surrounded by flowers, get-well-cards, and gifts, and when he goes home he finds an intriguing small box with a big ribbon. Amazingly, inside there's an old-fashioned flip phone from the 1990s. It doesn't work and there's no charger enclosed, so Harry puts it in a drawer until he can ask his mother about it. But that night he gets an incredible text message....


--From Harry Houdini. At least, that's who he says he is. The messages show real knowledge of Houdini trivia that even Google doesn't know, and Harry is almost convinced that he's talking to the real (albeit DEAD) Great Houdini.

And then Houdini's text messages ask him to help him escape death itself by doing the famous Metamorphosis trick in which young Harry will change places with the Great Houdini for an hour. It's an offer he can't refuse....

. . . but should. Harry Mancini, in the body of Houdini, finds himself in 1925, forced to escape from a straitjacket dangling twenty stories over a busy street. So far, he's not enjoying his life in the roaring twenties!

Houdini finds himself, in the body of eleven-year-old Harry Mancini, wandering around a modern version of New York, looking for the now non-existent theaters where he worked as a magician. His offers to prove he is the Great Houdini by swallowing needles just get him detained by a policeman and handcuffed.


In his latest, Houdini and Me (Holiday House, 2021), Dan Gutman returns to the time-traveling formula of his best-selling Baseball Card Adventures in which this middle-grade protagonist has an eye-opening encounter with his hero, Harry Houdini, who tries to use him as a way to achieving his greatest boast, to escape from death itself. Like his mega-popular Babe & Me: A Baseball Card Adventure, Roberto & Me (Baseball Card Adventures) and Ted and Me,(Baseball Card Adventures), Dan Gutman's novels bring humor, fast-moving adventures, and insight into both the strengths and flawed characters of his celebrity subjects. This novel does the same for Houdini, the arrogant master illusionist. Gutman's talents for funny, snappy dialogue are also on view in the hilarious exchanges between Harry Mancini and his friend Zeke aimed at middle grade readers.

Says Kirkus Reviews, "Humor and tension make this an appealing page-turner. . . . Funny, scary in the right moments, and offering plenty of historical facts."

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