The Houdini Box is another short work by Brian Selznick (it is about the same length as The Boy of a Thousand Faces, reviewed here). Once again, Selznick combines his amazing black and white illustrations with an intriguing storyline. This story follows Victor, an aspiring magician, as he tries (and fails, many many times) to replicate some of the greatest magic tricks performed by Harry Houdini. He happens to bump into his hero at a train station and is bursting with questions: “How can I escape from my grandmother’s trunk in under twenty seconds?…How do you escape from jails and handcuffs and ropes and make elephants disappear?” The magician promises to write him a letter that will explain everything.
Unfortunately for Victor, Houdini dies before he can learn his secrets. Houdini’s widow gives him a box with the initials E.W., but the young magician does not make the connection between these initials and his beloved performer. It is years later, once Victor is grown, when he realizes that E.W. stands for Ehrich Weiss: Houdini’s given name. The ending of this book will fascinate readers and leave them wondering how exactly does one escape from a locked box in under 20 seconds?
Selznick includes a short biography of Houdini at the end of the book and explains that he has rewritten history to allow for certain plot points in his story. This book, like all of Selznick’s work, is a good choice for reluctant readers because there is a mystery that slowly reveals itself as you read.
Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5 lupines